? and the Mysterian
There’s not a heck of a lot of information out there on the one-man band that comprises the jangle pop revivalist Bubblegum Lemonade. Basically the brainchild of Glasgow, Scotland’s Lawrence “Laz” McCluskey, and deriving its name from a Mama Cass (aka Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas) album, there’s little else that can be said about the, erm, “group”. Bubblegum Lemonade is about as low profile and obscure as it gets, which makes hearing the not-so-imaginatively titled Sophomore Release (yes, it is the second official full-length album, not counting a handful of EPs) all that more wonderful.
Bubblegum Lemonade is a throwback to the sounds of ‘60s jangle pop groups like the Byrds and the sun-bleached psychedelia of the early ‘80s Paisley Underground with some Jesus and Mary Chain-esque elements injected for good measure. The sound is light, it’s bubbly, and it’s a little bit twee. And, for the most part, it works. The enigmatic McCluskey has a real handle on his song craft, even though the end results found on the 12-track Sophomore Release are hardly original. He’s going back to a simpler time of music making, recalling an era when Top 40 albums weren’t computer processed to death—and this is something he relishes with glee in the liner notes by stating that the album is 100 percent Auto-Tune free.
Here, you get nearly pitch-perfect recreations of gold sounds from popular music’s past that are unleashed in quick two to three minute bursts. McCluskey is a skilled re-creationist, which is evident in the list of instruments used on the record as stated in the liner notes: You’ve got your standard Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker 12 string guitar. You’ve got a bass plugged into a Marshall amp. You’ve got your groovy red plastic tambourine (not just a tambourine, but a red one). And let’s not forget about that shaker egg to stir things up. Does that sound like fun to you? That sure sounds like fun to me.
The album kicks off with “Caroline’s Radio”, which pays tribute to the ‘60s offshore “pirate” radio station Radio Caroline, and has a jangle pop quality to it that is unique in that it has a start-stop stutter in its verses. The song references the Beach Boys in its lyrics, and I would go so far to add that it has a sunshiny vibe that recalls the early hits of said band, if not the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation”. When McCluskey intones “Caroline knows” in the song, it is a wink and a nod to Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No”, which was originally titled “Caroline, I Know”. If anything, this illustrates that our man certainly has a knack for incorporating music history on a multitude of levels into his songs.
And the hits keep coming from there. “Maybe Someday” features a slinky bass line and more jingly guitars than you can shake a fistful of quarters at, but it also broods in the best tradition of the Jesus and Mary Chain. “She’s Got a Gun” has a kind of masculine Camera Obscura quality to it, which is only natural considering that they, too, hail from Glasgow. The goofy “You Only Leave Twice” follows, with a softly strummed acoustic guitar and bongos as the main means of percussion backing it up.
“We Could Send Emails” is a delicious slice of twee with infectious “bah bah bahs” introducing the song, which could pass for a shoegazey Teenage Fanclub, another band that comes from Scotland—notice a pattern emerging here? The recycling of sounds continues with the memorable “When She Goes”, which was a song originally recorded by McCluskey’s former band, the Search Engines, and is the closest thing you have here to an actual cover despite the fact that all of these songs sound like they belong to other bands. Closing track “Last Train to Clarkston” even recalls the L.A. ‘60s pop of the Monkees, and not just by making a passing reference to “Last Train to Clarksville”. It is so exact and note-on that you could easily mistake the tune as one being done by that prefabricated American band.
While the tracks here are fairly strong, Sophomore Release’s production values, to an extent, could have used a bit of tweaking. Though the sound is generally crisp and clean, there are a couple of songs here that have a touch too much fuzz on the guitars, making my stereo speakers, which didn’t come cheap, crackle a bit. I’ve found no mention of a vinyl release anywhere online, and I would argue that Bubblegum Lemonade is crying out to be released on that medium, where one can be a bit more forgiving to guitars pushed just a smidge into the red.
Still, the songwriting is pretty much impeccable and “Laz” isn’t kidding in the liners when he welcomes listeners to “Bubblegum Lemonade’s greatest hits volume two!” There isn’t really a bad song to be found on Sophomore Release, even though I’m not crazy about the hazy, laid-back acoustic mid-tempo “Autumn Sky”, which does serve a utility in varying things on the record by being written in 3/4 time, or the plodding “Alice Please”. That said, there isn’t really a stellar “Oh my God! You have to hear this!” moment on the album, either. The songs here are simply workmanlike, skilled, serviceable and sturdy. I even had the impression listening to this that many of the songs would make memorable B-sides, in that they are well-executed, but have a sort of disposable, throw-way quality to them—which, I hasten to add, is not necessarily a bad thing. For that reason, those who miss the glory days of ‘60s pop and have pretty much exhausted music along those lines wouldn’t really go wrong picking up Sophomore Release. The songs here will give you a bit of a head buzz and they are generally pleasing, even if McCluskey isn’t really the next incarnation of Brian Wilson. For that, Bubblegum Lemonade is probably destined to be mired in obscurity, but if you have a little extra coin in your pocket, you can’t go wrong discovering the jingle-jangle to be heard on Sophomore Release. The taste is sticky sweet, and is, at the best of times, ultimately downright memorable, even if it goes down merely as a reprocessing of styles. Sophomore Release is simply good stuff.
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