“Look into my eyes/I wish to seeee youu…”, sing Les Papillons Télépathes on the chorus of “Bangor”, managing to sound sweet, clichéd, simplistic, and possibly existentialist, all at once (and also reminding me of a Busta Rhymes lyric, but then I’m just hopelessly messed up). Is it enough that their yearning sincerity sounds, well, so sincere? That drummer Jaques Dubois, singer Réjean Ricard, and bassist Eric Van Buren play guitar, bass, and drums, et basta? What is the best Beatles album? Has pop music simply gone relentlessly downhill since the ‘60s?
Depending on your answers to these questions, you should be able to deduce your potential fondness for this record. One of the reasons I’ve taken so long to review this album is that I keep changing my mind about it, depending on what mood I’m in at the time, what time of day it is, and how pissed off I am with whatever inanities my radio is currently trying to pretend are popular, and therefore good. Sometimes I feel that Songs from a Second Wave is miserably derivative and unimaginative, and should be shunned. On others, I catch myself enjoying, and being comforted by, this old formula being repeated with such single-minded determination, respect, and, well, success. I can’t even work out whether their name is pleasingly fitting or annoyingly wannabe poetic.
Undeniably, the first couple of tracks sound as though they were composed by Teenage Fanclub after they’d been chained up in a shady Montreal basement for a week and had “Dr Robert” played to them on loop. Cruelty to cult indie musicians aside, though, I have to say that this is a (potentially very) good thing. “The Cutting Elm”, with its shift from downtempo nostalgia on the intro into a sunshine party cut with bobbing bass, cross harmonies, and handclaps, only to coast back into elegiac calm again, sounds as irresistibly fab as it does familiar. Hell, maybe the CIA really were conspiring with Greys back in the day, using a mixture of altered LSD and hypnosis waves from space to affect the brain structures of the entire human race; if not, I’d suggest that the bands back in those days put their fingers on something simple but fundamentally right. Ricard, I feel, believes in this with all his soul, and I have to acknowledge that he has a point, even if I’m not entirely sure his single-mindedness is to be commended.
Which is not to say that this is a hermetic, pained reconstruction of a record. Heck, “Four Leaf Clover” is the missing link between Revolver and The Bends, while “Sickly and the Awkward Gene” powers along on something suspiciously close to the central riff of Blur’s “Parklife” before mixing in some Texmex guitar. “Angry Young Man” manages to blend an “Eleanor Rigby”-esque observation of other people’s frustration and sadness with a plethora of tempo changes and some surf rock; the mostly instrumental “A Passing Glance” powers along like a more sprightly Doves track; and on the closer, “Big Bang!”, they sing in French using exactly the same patterns and vocal tone as English, which sounds strange, slightly angry, and oddly pleasing. You get lots of variation in moods and styles over the course of the thirteen tracks in forty three minutes, provided you’re OK with seeing it all through a prism set at one fixed point in music’s history (a less kind reviewer might make comparisons to a certain Henry Ford quote here).
However you feel about the Telepathic Butterflies putting passion over both purism and progress, both the lyrics and the music contained on this record are comforting nostalgia that manages to be perky, quirky, and fun. You couldn’t dent the winsome, accomplished charm of Songs from a Second Wave with a very large mallet. They can be proud of that.