James Michael


by Ben Varkentine


I want to say right off that my general opinion of James Michael’s solo debut is a good one. I come to praise, not to bury it but there are a couple of troubling details that must be attended to. First of all, this is the result of the kind of studio-bound Nirvana where the musician, in this case singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michael, locks himself in his studio and emerges with an album’s worth of “masterpieces” played mostly by himself with occasional guest musicians. Too rough-sounding to really be pure pop, the results show the drawbacks to the DIY philosophy: Just because you can program, play, sing and write an album mostly by yourself doesn’t mean you should.

It’s the vocals that most let Michael down here; especially on the ballads “Slack”, “Note To Self” and “Say It Once More” he has a tendency to drop into a nasal whine that is quite unappealing. Also, “Down” shows he should be kept out of an echo chamber at all costs. Elsewhere and on the more-uptempo numbers his voice is more effective (and multi-tracked), but the above vocals tend to put off the lyrics from penetrating the brain. And it’s a shame, too, because the lyrics are fine, especially on “Slack”.

Michael the guitarist gets the best workout on “Luxuride”, but elsewhere his guitar parts fall into familiar patterns. His cover of Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” converts it into a fairly straightforward rock song. Conclusion: There’s still work to be done, but this is an immensely likable debut. Although any musician with the balls to write “I will get you a stereo, and I will it fuck it up” as Michael does on “Simple Thing” is waving a red rag to critic, Michael gets away with it.


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