For a band as likeable as Sing-Sing, the amount of time they take putting out the new music can be a bit trying. Formed by former Lush guitarist/vocalist Emma Anderson in collaboration with singer Lisa O’Neill in 1998, it wasn’t until 2001 that their debut album The Joy of Sing-Sing was released in the UK, eventually making its way to the other side of the Atlantic a year later. By the time the single “Lover” was released as a free internet download in the summer of 2005, it was no surprise that many people (including yours truly, who reviewed that first CD) had simply forgotten about Sing-Sing. So when the time came to write this little review of their first album in four years, I had to go digging through my CDs in search of The Joy of Sing-Sing and give myself a quick refresher course. It didn’t take long before I remembered why I liked that album, and listening to such effervescent songs as “Panda Eyes” and “Tegan”, a couple of thoughts sprung to mind: one, that album is still as good as I claimed it to be back in the summer of 2002, and secondly, Sing-Sing and I sorely lacks the ebullience of its predecessor.
Like the debut, the new album has Anderson and O’Neill continuing their preoccupation with simple pop rock hooks and the dreampop that Anderson pulled off so brilliantly during her Lush years, but what’s most noticeable is how the electronic element of the first record has been toned down considerably. Sure, synthesizers and the odd electronic beats appear from time to time, but this is a decidedly more organic piece of work, one that sounds rather downbeat and melancholy, often drifting towards the intoxicating, blurry-minded charm of Lush and their early-90s peers while making the odd stylistic sidestep from time to time.
Mixed by the great Alan Moulder (of My Bloody Valentine infamy), opening cut “Lover” totally smacks of Lush’s fine Lovelife album from 1996, an insistent little rocker that combines 60s garage catchiness with the enigmatic lyric writing that dominated The Joy of Sing-Sing (“Lover, you’re my mandolin/Lover, you’re so challenging”). The loping “A Modern Girl” dives headlong into dreampop, with its layers of acoustic and chiming electric guitars, as does the majestically melancholy “Going Out Tonight”, which has Anderson reprising those soft vocals that made old songs like “De-Luxe” and “Nothing Natural” so enticing way back when, painting a gloomy portrait of the shadier side of the high class night life (“Making love with the gin and pink, they love you less than you think”). The gorgeous “When I Was Made” marks a new high point for the duo, a wistful tune drenched in dreampop guitars and early 70s folk rock melodies.
It’s when Anderson and O’Neill try different musical directions that Sing-Sing and I begins to show hints of losing its focus. Some of the bolder songwriting adventures are successful, such as the saucy T. Rex shuffle of “Come, Sing Me a Song”, the psychedelic-tinged “Mr. Kadali” which describes a witch doctor in O’Neill’s neighborhood, and the harpsichord-driven retro rock of “I Do”, dominated by O’Neill’s coquettish vocals. That said, we’re also subject to weaker fare like the tepid blues jam of “Ruby”, the awkward Weill-like waltz of “The Time Has Come” (the chorus of which still grates this writer’s ears), and the lugubrious stalker ballad “Unseen” which sounds more tedious than creepy.
Completely self-funded (with the help of donations by their fans), and released on their own Aerial Records label, it’s admirable how O’Neill and Anderson have gone to such lengths to get their music out to the public, and for the most part, Sing-Sing and I, while taking a slightly different direction than that of the debut album, manages to be a satisfactory follow-up. Like The Joy of Sing-Sing it doesn’t come close to sounding cutting-edge, but as is often the case, those undeniable hooks supersede innovation. Their sophomore effort might be a touch inconsistent, but by keeping things simple and sticking to their strengths, Anderson and O’Neill make us all wish that they don’t take so long putting out album number three.