It’s always a good idea for musicians to keep things they haven’t released. Studio sessions of earlier material can always give bands ideas for songs, or even songs themselves, for future albums. So when Doleful Lions released Song Cyclops Volume One in 2000, few realized that they actually had recorded enough material for a second volume. And this is what you have here, with the exception of a couple of tracks churned out earlier this year. Lead singer and mastermind Jonathan Scott isn’t as dynamic or adventurous as he’s been with previous studio efforts, but it’s still an album with more than enough old-school pop sensibilities to pull things off smashingly. After the brief Beach Boys-ish barber shop quartet intro “Foxhole Prayer”, Scott and his mates get the ball rolling with a gorgeous “The Warriors End Table” that sounds eerily like Guided By Voices in their prime (when weren’t they in their prime?) and an early, revved up version of the Who. It’s a joyous, snappy, crisp, and catchy number that sounds like it was recorded in someone’s basement. And it’s one that is easily placed on repeat again and again and again and again and ...
Scott could probably spot a hook or melody across the street and it’s that knack that makes so many of these precious nuggets come to life so quickly and effortlessly. Just have a gander at “Freezing Breezes”, which brings to mind some sort of concoction between the Cure and Sloan. Sweet but still alt.rock or indie rock, the song settles into its groove quite nicely. The same aura is felt during the sugary “Saturday Mansions”. A slow doo-wop rendition of The Crystals’ “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” strolls along without a care in the world. What is apparent is how secure and sure Scott is that he will deliver the goods song after song. And he does here without the slightest of problems. It’s this tight power pop that makes “Wallflower” shine, even if musically or hook-wise it’s not the greatest tune in the world.
A couple of numbers don’t quite measure up to Scott’s generally high level of creativity. “Xanax & Windsprints” is a good example of this as Doleful Lions come off as disjointed, trippy, and totally unfocused. It might work as a hidden bonus track elsewhere, but here it’s basically a waste of 80 seconds. Thankfully, you forget all about that with the gleaming “Ghost Town in the Sky” that could be the b-side of a Split Enz single. One gets a taste of how lush, orchestral, and sonically rich future albums could be with the gorgeous “She’s Got Rhythm”, a cover of a Beach Boys relic from the late ‘70s. Here Scott creates a lovely emotional version that has equal parts U2 and Mercury Rev. But generally, Doleful Lions stick with what they knew best at the time, with the excellent “She’s Got Rhythm” resembling a tug of war between the Jackson 5 and the Partridge Family.
The second half of the record follows much the same blueprint as the first, although there tends to be a handful of songs that measure up to the quality of the first half. “From This Day On”, a cover of the Close Lobsters tune, is a rootsy pop tune in the vein of Tom Petty. A similar tune follows with “Oriental Spike” reeking of that old Byrds-ian feeling. And for the rest of the album, what you get are intricate pop numbers that seem to take a bit from McGuinn, a bit from Matthew Sweet, and a bit from XTC, particularly on the cheery “Chrome Submarine” or thoughtful, reflective “Tree Full Of Owls”.
Doleful Lions might continue to get back to their adventurous, dreamy and lush brand of rock. But for this album, they’ve returned to a timeless, surefire format that ages as well as a bottle of wine. And it’s an extremely expensive bottle, of course.