[24 February 2004]
The relationship between the Beatles and their guru was infamous. In their quest for enlightenment, they sought out a teacher who would lead them cheerfully and dispassionately to their self-actualization, and when they finally found him he proceeded to rip them off. The Gurus, a band consisting of three fab lads from Barcelona, seems in this sense to be aptly named. Their quest, according to their press, for “perfect guitar pop” initially appears as a sweet success on their self-titled debut album, but ultimately ends up feeling like a cheap imitation of, you guessed it, the Beatles. The problem is not so much that the record is bad or ill conceived, but that the sense of inauthenticity overpowers its nostalgic pop qualities.
On every song on the Gurus’ debut tips its hat in some way to an aspect of ‘60s pop, from Britpop to psychedelia, without straying from the now standard Beatles song structure. The first track, “Big Sea”, utilizes familiar psychedelic tape effects and tight harmonies typical of Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles, while “Fly So High” quotes the Hendrix wah wah sound, and the extra long “Purple Blue” is eerily reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s idea of the pop symphony. Yet, all the songs on the album cling slavishly to the repetitive verse/chorus structure so that not only is every song predictable but the band’s frequent use of these ‘60s musical quotations gives the listener the sneaking suspicion that they’ve heard all this before. Worse than musical déjà vu, the effect is that it becomes difficult to figure out which song is filler and which has substance, since the whole album appears to consist entirely of the same song in minute permutations.
Perhaps it is unfair to expect every band to do something new, to stumble upon some undiscovered musical morsel, since perhaps there is nothing new under the sun, and pop music’s tendency to recycle and reproduce old ideas is certainly a reflection of this fact. Yet, what is disappointing is that the Gurus’ plagiarism lacks all energy and exuberance. It seems that they have taken on the guru persona to such an extreme that every song turns out cheerfully sedate. The perfect example is on “Fly So High” during which the vocal performance is so flat and squeaky-clean that when Emili Ramirez sings “I need love” one wonders: What for? He seems happy enough as it is! The album’s real low point is “Falling I’m Falling”, a song so saccharine it could only be suitable for a Brady Bunch reunion concert. The Gurus seem to think that perfection lies in the production of an exact replica of the musical forms established by the Beatles, but what they fail to grasp is that what keeps the Beatles and other groups in the pop cannon from becoming anachronistic is that bit of underlying tension created between the popular form and the angst, desperation, Eros, passion, emotion that speaks to what is intrinsic in human nature. The forms themselves are irrelevant, it’s the substance embraced by the forms that count, and thus the Gurus sound as though they are reproducing an image of an era that they apparently love but do not really understand.
This is not to say that the album is painful to listen to, and it does have some high points that would be worth the time of any listener who enjoys the sounds of jangly, danceable, and sunny Brit Pop with all the trappings of simple fuzz guitar solos and satisfying hooks. The best song on the album is by far “Hard Work” which is, I think, a good demonstration of where the Gurus could (or should) go on their next effort. The constraints of those syrupy sweet lyrics are kicked aside in favor of more angsty emotional material and a very raw and exuberant vocal delivery. Fuzz guitar and feeling abound, and the percussion pulses with a remarkable rhythmic complexity and diversity which sets apart each section of the Beatles form to a rather original-sounding effect. Another high point on the album, the song “Kamala Pt. 1”, proves that the Gurus don’t have to be slaves to the verse/chorus song form. On this instrumental track they set themselves free to explore different musical ideas, which is a refreshing break from the monotony everywhere else on the album, and a track that really rocks.
While the album is listenable it is hard to envision when or even how often one could stand to play it. Perhaps on a nice sunny day when one is forced to clean the bathroom because it hasn’t been cleaned in months and last night’s soirée has left the sink covered in tequila and puke, then perhaps a little sugar from the Gurus’ debut might be just the thing to transport the listener to his/her happy place. Ultimately, however, for most people the album is too perky and too short on substance to be worth a second listen.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/gurus-st/