I love the concept for this band: lyrical love songs and torch ballads done in a moody, lounge mode with piano, guitar and a lead vocalist who can really sing. The quality of the songwriting (all songs are by keyboardist Davey Ray Moore) is pretty high. The only real clunkers are “Mesmer” and “Shades of Ruinous Blue”, both of which Davey Ray Moore chose to sing. Even then it’s hard to tell if it’s the songs or Davey Ray’s voice, which just sounds thin and strained beside Liam McKahey’s rich grain (leave the singing to the guy with the voice Davey). But there are at least four near-classics here: “Your Day Will Come”, “Wish You Were Her”, “Jump in the River”, and “Of This Goodbye”.
Doomed romance is the theme of Cousteau’s self-titled debut. There is passion’s seductive/destructive currents in “Jump in the River”. In “She Don’t Hear Your Prayer”, we witness the terrifying transformation of the loved one into an indifferent siren, “Though it looks just like her / She ain’t got her eyes”. And in “Wish You Were Her”, there is the superimposition of a new model of the object of desire on her predecessor. “I’m getting used to you,” Liam McKahey sings, a deceptively simple line that carries many ambivalent nuances: the mixture of relief and loss as the strangeness and danger of a new attraction wears into the everyday familiarity of a relationship; the co-dependent aspect of “getting used” to someone; the end-is-in-the-beginning-and-yet-we-go-on character of getting used to love, when familiarity will breed contempt.
Wit is the crucial element lacking in Davey Ray Moore’s songwriting. The best romantic songwriters from Harold Arlen to Bryan Ferry know that love, even in its darkest aspects, is never wholly serious. There is nothing on Cousteau to equal, say, Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On”, but it also took Ferry years to hit that invisible target. Cousteau’s is not, as yet, a fully realized manifesto, but if Davey Ray Moore learns to hear the laughter at the heart of desire, they may still find their Atlantis.