Starch Martins have a cool name, CD design, and website. However, their sound isn’t quite as compelling. But that’s what you get when you make that old favorite mix of Elvis Costello and the Beatles. Forever damned into having comparisons drawn. Getting to hear things like, “Oh, that sounds like This Year’s Model meets Revolver.” Or some other such nonsense.
But it’s true. Starch Martins have blended the best of Mr. Costello and the Fab Four and have come up with a stew that could only hope to be the equal of either, yet fails to do so by a foot or two. Starch Martins are mainly Dick Prall, whom you may or may not recall used to record under the name The Dick Prall Band and released Somewhere About Here in 1998. The press kit urges us to consider the alt-country flavorings of Starch Martins as well as the Beatles influence, but Prall sounds more like Costello. So be it.
What’s good here? Well, “Sunshine Came” for starters. The band obviously likes it enough to use it on their website. It has an easy flowing melody and interesting lines like “Almost had the perfect day today / The rain came down / To wash my town away / When everything should’ve been gone / Something went terribly wrong / When the sunshine came”. Ah, so Prall is one of those clever brooders. Sure. He does a good job at it, too. It’s just a shame that it does eventually bog his songs down.
Of course, Prall is not completely down and out. He sings, “Celebrate the moments as they come” on the Lennonesque “Bye Bye Bye” (who doesn’t have a song with that title lately?). But you tend to think that maybe he doesn’t mean it, as Prall definitely likes to play the pessimist. In “Happy”, he sings about the rain once again (“How long can somebody stand the rain / I love the rain”), and in “All The Same To Me” he mopes around as much as possible. “I don’t want to go anywhere / I don’t want to talk to anyone / I don’t want anyone else around here but me / I don’t want to write any songs / I don’t want to drink ‘til it’s gone / I don’t want to be myself today”. All right, so don’t. Damn. The act wears thin fast, though, Dick, so try to smile a little bit at least.
Yet it seems beyond Prall to do so. He fills his songs with sentiments like “Don’t ever think you’re in love ‘cause you’re not” (“Don’t Ever Think . . .”) and “Haven’t you noticed / That the whole town / Is lying in pieces” (“Haven’t You Noticed”). Dick also seems to have a fascination with drinking problems, as “Sweet Dreams”, “Close”, and “All The Same To Me” revel in the subject. Fine, Prall is a serious songwriter and rocks well enough, but the heavy handedness of many of the songs here tends to weigh in too much too soon.
Still, Starch Martins have an amiable sound that should hook a few listeners in the first time around. They might even be able to sustain a few of those music fans in the long run. However, it’s hard not to notice the grim face sulking behind the sweet melodies after a while. Not that that’s bad, necessarily, but a change of lyrical pace certainly wouldn’t hurt matters any. Dressing up the Failure certainly lives up to its name. But just like an annoying album filled with nothing but happy songs, the cynical twists that run throughout this disc become tiresome as well. A cool name, sleeve design and website does not make a cool band. Turn that frown upside down, Starch Martins.