The Orchid Highway have bounced around Vancouver and the rest of Canada for several years (apparently in a former school bus with a psychedelic paint job), but their self-titled album is the first full-length disc they’ve managed to release. It’s a ten song album clocking in at a brisk 37 minutes, and their sound is a decidedly backwards-looking slice of ‘60s-style rock. In fact, the band spends so much time paying homage to the titans of the ‘60s and their more modern power-pop brethren that they almost don’t manage to establish their own sound.
The album opens with “Sofa Surfer Girl”, a sunny tune with sliding guitar fills and a singing style lifted right out of the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. The mellotron break in the middle of the song does nothing to disabuse this notion. The lyrics are about a girl who drifts through life from ride to ride and house to house and the chorus gets stuck in your head almost immediately. Second song “Medicine Tree” fares a bit better with its upbeat drum fills, swirling organ, and memorable chorus—“Always alone / always apart / it’s how we end / it’s how we start / it’s only love that gets us through / that’s how we are, just me and you.” Next up, though, “Let’s Stay in Instead” plunges right back into Sgt. Pepper-land, sounding like an amalgam of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” with reverb-drenched minor-key guitars, lyrics that sound like they were written on a drug trip, and an honest-to-God jazzy flute solo.
The Orchid Highway
US: 13 May 2008
UK: 9 Jun 2008
The rest of the album continues in this vein. The upbeat rockers tend to fare a bit better because so many bands have done this stuff over the years that it’s not as readily apparent which artist or particular song was the primary influence. “Ballad on Plain E” grooves along on a meaty distorted guitar riff, but nearly sabotages itself with the lame refrain “All the world is trying to make me high.” Still, the riff keeps it afloat and it’s one of the album’s more interesting pieces. The disc’s final two songs, “Time for a Change” and “Legion Hall”, almost manage to sound creative. “Change” has clever lyrics throughout and is a rousing rocker, while “Legion Hall” is a slowed-down shuffle with passionate vocals and creepy, circus-like chromatic organ runs.
On the other side of the coin, some of the disc’s most derivative moments are almost painful to listen to, particularly “Opiate”. A languid song driven by a Hammond B3 organ, it sounds almost exactly like Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, minus the fiery uptempo guitar solos. “Next World” sounds more like fellow Canadian power-pop band Sloan than anything else, while “Pop Tart Girl” sounds sort of like The Odds (yes, another Canadian power-pop band), but remains a 3-minute slice of catchy goodness.
It’s tough to judge a band like this. On the one hand, I kind of admire their forthrightness about loving the ‘60s and psychedelia. From the aforementioned tour bus to the album’s cover photo that shows the band through a washed-out blue filter to recording the album on analog equipment, the Orchid Highway seem to be trying their best to live in the past. On the other hand, though, a lot of the “homages” on the album come perilously close to being ripoffs. Given that the playing throughout is solid (particularly drummer Adrian Buckley), and the vocals are pretty strong, it comes down to the songwriting. Overall, this is a solidly written album, with catchy songs that stick in your head like glue. The best moments on here are right up there with the best in modern power-pop, but the out-and-out bites from familiar ‘60s tunes drag it back down, which leaves The Orchid Highway squarely in the middle of the scale.
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