A pleasant record full of unassuming jangle-pop gems, Kimberley Rew’s Great Central Revisited is a fine offering from one of power-pop’s unsung heroes. Through his tenure in the Soft Boys and Katrina and the Waves, Rew has displayed his knack for crafting (or helping to craft) snappy pop ditties with candy-coated choruses. Remember “Walking on Sunshine”? Sure you do. Although it’s since been relegated to the netherworld of ‘80s compilation CDs, there’s really no denying the song’s inherent merit.
Although he is mainly noted for his songwriting and guitar-playing skills, Rew lends his voice to the proceedings here as well. Although it’s not exactly the most soothing instrument you’re likely to hear all year, it’s certainly distinctive, and after a few runs through of the album, quite charming in its own right.
Given Rew’s previous endeavors, the feel of the songs on Great Central is not entirely surprising. However, for the most part, they are a bit more twangy than one might expect, and unexpectedly reliant on tropes that one would think of as distinctly American, rather than British.
Opener “Life Itself”, with its tasty arpeggiated guitar figure, actually has more in common with ex-bandmate Robyn Hitchcock’s solo work than pretty much anything else on the record. Hot on its heels, however, is the rollicking “English Road”, which sets the tone for the more upbeat numbers on the record. Rew’s guitar simply shines on songs like this. It’s not as if he’s doing anything particularly complicated, but he’s among the handful of players out there who have the ability to create a classic sound simply by banging out a few chords on their Rickenbacker. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s also capable of inserting a ripping, yet entirely appropriate solo into the proceedings.
“Seven Stars” is emblematic of Rew’s love of telling simple stories about people (perhaps himself). This one is about a guy who’s in love with a girl bass player, and his feelings of pride on seeing her playing with her band.
“Screaming Lord Sutch”, on the other hand, while keeping the character sketch motif from “Seven Stars”, veers to the other side of the pop spectrum as far as its music goes, into the realm of mellow balladry. The chorus to the song, however, is one of the most affecting that Rew offers on the album, pairing his straining, sweet-yet-tart voice with a swooning guitar part and swelling strings.
“E.C. Blues”, then, is Rew’s stab at rockabilly, and while it’s fairly entertaining, it also comes across as a tad cloying. This is really one of the only problems I have with the album as a whole—lyrically, Rew occasionally comes across as a big cheeseball. He’s a fine storyteller, but occasionally he’ll let a real stinker of a line pass through his editing process. In the case of “Purple and Orange Stripes”, it’s a whole song—an a cappella exercise that, in spirit, recalls Robyn Hitchcock’s occasional divergence into speak-singing (songs like “The Can Opener” or “Autumn Sea” spring to mind). The difference is that while Hitchcock always managed to be entirely convincing in his looniness, Rew simply comes across as someone eager to draw a heavy-handed allegory, and come across as clever while doing so.
However, we won’t hold a failed one minute-and-17-second experiment against him for too long, because this record is, all in all, a very enjoyable effort from someone whose name should be much better known than it is. Although no new ground is broken throughout the course of Great Central Revisited, it is nonetheless a very solid, extremely likeable record. Songs like the raucous, joyful “Great Central Revisited” and the closing “We Will Swim Together” prove amply that Rew is a singular talent, and should languish in cult status no longer.
// Notes from the Road
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