Good things come to those who wait, and I’ve been waiting for this one’s official release just this side of forever. Now that it’s here, I will do my level best to convey in words the kind of immense talent that Boston native Bleu (nee William James Mcauley III) has; he’s a very strong singer/songwriter with an old-fashioned sense of craft to the way he puts together songs. Add to that an amazingly expressive voice and lyrics that capture teenage angst in a perfect mix of emotion and intellect and you still get only a poor approximation of the whole—to get the big picture you really need to hear this music.
Redhead recalls passionate days gone by of crunchy harmony-guitar leads and wonderful sing-along melodies and infectious choruses, but it’s so much more than mere nostalgia—it’s the joy of discovering a legitimate heir to that abandoned rock crooner throne. This is an instant classic; an album so strong and well put-together from start to finish you only hope there’s some sympathetic justice to be found with the listening public.
Bleu has grown a bit in the time making this CD. In the growth process there’s less of the quirky electronica Bleu favored on past albums, replaced now with a true cohesive band feeling and a powerful sound to match. Bleu remains humble and lovable, a regular guy with his mutton chop sideburns and tattoo that says merely “tattoo”, but he’s now accompanied by a stellar band: Bill Guerra on guitar and background vocals, Max Toste on bass and Dustin Hengst on drums.
The revamped album opens with the infectious “Get Up”, a dramatic call to action from a concerned friend: “Get up you’re stuck in a slump / Get up you’re stuck in a rut / Get up before you lose touch / Get up”. Guerra and Mcauley deliver harmonized lead guitars and the band offers rousing background “bah bahs” that become impossible not to join in on.
This is one of the newer song additions (not available on the previous Aware records version of Redhead), along with “That’s When I Crash”, a great moody and poetic song about not being able to let go of the past. Bleu sings this with aplomb, his emotive tenor really selling the song (wonderful arrangements and guitars aid the effort).
Another bluesy, angst-ridden tune is “You Know, I Know, You Know”, a great example of someone fooling themselves into believing they’re fine after a relationship has crumbled: “I’m doin’ fine / My friends all say so / I’m doin’ all right / But that don’t mean dick unless you know I know you know / I got my good days, I got my bad days / I know that everyone does / And I know one day / I’ll be like I was”.
Part of what keeps the sound fresh is the number of collaborators with whom Bleu works. Though fully capable of writing great songs alone (five such songs here), he’s also able through collaboration to make an end product even greater than the sum of its parts.
One of Bleu’s talented collaborators is David Bassett, and two of their compositions are here. The wonderfully melodic “I Won’t Go Hollywood” is a musical promise not to compromise one’s self when living out on the west coast: “No one here is where I’m from or where I wanna be / We all get drunk from too much sun and don’t know who to be / Don’tcha worry I won’t let them sell me out, sell me in, color me misunderstood / But I won’t go Hollywood”. The other Mcauley/Bassett song ,“We’ll Do It All Again”, rides Dustin Hengst’s tom-toms from an acoustic guitar verse to full string accompaniment (well-arranged by wunderkind pop producer John Fields), sending the needle high on the catchy-meter. This song perfectly captures the inherent fights that are a natural part of any relationship: “We’ll do it all again / Stumble and fall / Then do it all again”.
Another of Bleu’s collaborators is Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, and together they’ve written one of my favorites. “Somethin’s Gotta Give” does a great job of relating all those horrible feelings and thoughts that survive a recently ended relationship: “Since you left me, I’ve been almost fine/ Back to normal, back to boring life / Drama’s over since we dulled that shine / I saw your mom at the mall just the other day buyin’ you a brand new bed / Said she missed havin’ me around / I could only die as I nodded my head / If ya wanted me back I know I’d go and letcha do it / If ya wanted me back I know somehow we’d wander through it / If ya wanted me back I know I’d go but someday somethin’s gotta give”.
Also included here is the lush Peter Moore collaboration from last year’s Spiderman soundtrack, “Somebody Else”. This dramatic yet quiet song contemplates teenage identity angst: “Why can’t I be somebody else? / Somebody who isn’t too cool to believe it’s okay to be just me”. It features a guitar solo from the Rembrandts’ Phil Solem and for many, was an introduction to Bleu’s music.
Jellyfish fans can take solace in the knowledge that Andy Sturmer is among Bleu’s collaborators too. He contributes backup vocals to their infectious “Could Be Worse”, an upbeat ditty that features wonderful dual-guitar harmonies, and guest drumming from Jamie Vavra. Mcauley teams with Alex Scutro in writing the mid-tempo rock anthem “Trust Me” with its “nah-nah-nah-nahs” that invite you to sing along. Again, the vocal performance here is honest and compelling.
Four songs have been updated from Bleu’s previous Headroom CD. “Searchin’ for the Satellites” is a wonderful ballad about that tough stage when you look into the sky and try to make sense of your life; you drink a bit and can almost feel innocence fleeing the scene. Bleu’s wonderful vocals and John Fields’s superb production set up great lyrics like this: “Lyin’ on our backs / We were swimmin’ in the grass holdin’ hands / Undressin’ all the stars / Making constellations right in my backyard / Everything connected easy then”.
Also updated is the lovely and eerie “Watchin’ You Sleep”, perhaps the definitive stalker song. Bleu tells this creepy yet endearing story of a man obsessed with another: “Watchin’ you sleep / Right outside your window / Inches away from sleepin’ with you / And you don’t even know it / Watchin’ you sleep all night”.
The album’s last listed track is the updated “3’s A Charm”, enlisting the services of digital Dorris as his mom’s haunting voice on an answering machine, telling him “never you worry”. Max Toste and Bill Jones provide some fine bass lines here.
The two hidden tracks (surely Bleu wouldn’t only give you twelve songs) involve dancing. In the updated “Feet Don’t Fail”, heavy guitars lunge forward in a song about a guy eager to dance rather than be alone (that ironically or intentionally is near impossible to dance to). “Dance, Dance Baby Doll Dance” is another fun Andy Sturmer collaboration, an ideal mix of that sort of light Jellyfish whimsy meeting Bleu’s expressive vocals (and there’s a common Queen influence to the music of both).
Redhead is an old-fashioned epic, a classic pop album chock full of good tunes from start to finish that I recommend strongly. For those who scoff at the current music scene’s lack of songwriting craft, Bleu is a revelation: great emotional lyrics that capture feelings succinctly in interesting, well-structured melodies guaranteed to have you singing along for a time to come.
If there’s any musical justice, Bleu’s many talents won’t remain a secret for long and Redhead will catapult this unassuming star into the actual limelight. His songs are big and soulful enough to rock the largest arenas; now he just needs to wait for his audience to arrive. Which brings me back to my original premise: good things do come to those who wait.
// Notes from the Road
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