You've Heard It All Before
I have decided to make up a rule for certain bands that try their best to emulate the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The rule goes like this: Just because you are capable of writing songs in the vein of Lennon/McCartney and/or Brian Wilson doesn’t mean you should. Sgt. Pepper’s will never be equaled, so please put down your acid and try again please.
What is it about New Jersey and its bands that love to ape the Summer of Love? First it was the Anderson Council and their Coloursound disc, and now it’s The Echo Orbiter and Laughing All the While. Perhaps no one learned the Jellyfish lesson that more or less proved that people would most often rather listen to the real thing than a carbon clone. Well, I admit to liking Spilt Milk a lot, and I do think that XTC have had their moments, but The Echo Orbiter seems three steps removed from even that sound.
I think I shall write a second rule that states that one is not allowed to try and duplicate Sgt. Pepper’s no matter how much they may want to. It’s bad enough that this album features a stirring audience at the beginning right before “Aqua’s Own Pocketwatch Odyssey” kicks in. But here again we have that all too-cute preciousness that goes along with the New Psychedelic turf. You can basically just look at titles like “Song of the Missing Forest”, “Melody to Accompany a Stroll Through a Park”, and “Blue Stew, Oh the Witches’ Brew” and figure out how they’re going to sound. That’s right. Pretentious and childlike.
And what is it with the whole lead singer doing his damndest to sound British with these groups? To me that just notches down the enjoyment even more. Just sing in your own damn voice and make do. No one’s falling for your shtick. But do let me allow the band to tell you all about what they’re trying to attempt with this album. “Without giving too much away, Laughing All the While is a 47-minute document which hints at mental madness, seclusion, curiosity, and uninhibited playfulness. The title itself could represent the random laughter of a madman, the poignant laughter of a child at play, or the last laugh’ so to speak.” They then go on to define what the “last laugh” is. Thanks for the first grade lesson, guys.
Oh, it’s whimsical and playful. “Southern Belle” and “Curious Time Machine” do their best XTC doing the Beatles impressions that they can, while “Golden Wash of the Sunset” and “Hey Mr. Moonman” explore other avenues of late ‘60s pop that have been mined and pilfered by countless other groups. The bottom line here is that there’s nothing you haven’t heard before and nothing “new” that you need to hear now. The Echo Orbiter and Laughing All the While is another drop in the pan of new indie psychedelia that sounds big but says very little. My only question is if you have this much talent, why bother squandering it in the past? Why not contribute something new and fresh? Who knows. Just don’t be looking for any deep answers or long-term enjoyment from this one.