[2 February 2009]
Londoner Jessica Griffin has helmed twee pop outfit the Would-Be-Goods since the late ‘80s, when the band made a minor splash in the British pop world with a handful of singles and one critically acclaimed full-length, The Camera Loves Me, on the influential (if commercially unsuccessful) el records.
Like that label, the Would-Be-Goods have failed to garner anything more than a modest following in the ensuing years—a fact no doubt partly due to a nine-year gap between albums from 1993 to 2002. When the Would-Be-Goods returned in 2002 with Brief Lives on Matinee Records, it was met with widespread appreciation from critics, if not record buyers.
The Would-Be-Goods have undergone several line-up changes over the years, and is currently comprised of Griffin, guitarist Peter Momtchiloff (Heavenly and Talulah Gosh), drummer Deborah Green (thee Headcoatees), and bassist Andy Warren (Adam and the Ants and the Monochrome Set). Not surprisingly, the heavily pedigreed quartet is plenty competent, and Eventyr, released late last year, is it’s most muscular and full-sounding album to date. It’s a shame so few people will hear it.
Yet, you get the feeling the Would-Be-Goods don’t mind the obscurity. Given Griffin’s exceedingly genteel—even snobbish—vocal delivery, it may be true that the Would-Be-Goods would regard adoration from the unwashed masses as a bit unseemly. Articulating her lyrics in perfect Received Pronunciation, Griffin flaunts her refinement. It’s no doubt a big reason why her fans love her. Subtle and sophisticated, she aims her art at the inverse of the lowest common denominator.
On Eventyr, Griffin employs her smart, seductive voice to tell stories culled from mid-19th century Europe. But the themes—love, loss, sin, and vanity, to name a few—are timeless. Meanwhile, her band sounds as if it could craft a catchy three-minute pop tune in its sleep. While scintillating verse-chorus-verse power pop is the Would-Be-Good’s stock in trade, the band has no problem changing things up for a sultry bit of bossa nova (“In Venusberg”), gypsy-inspired balladry (“Melusine”), or jaunty, baroque pop (“The Ghost of Mr. Minton”). Its finest moments, though, are when Griffin’s enchantingly urbane storytelling is backed by sugar-rush pop, such as on album-opener “Sad Stories Are More Beautiful”, and the irresistibly jangly “Temporary Best Friend”.
If Eventyr lacks anything, it’s flaws. And that’s not entirely a compliment. Every guitar note, cymbal crash, and backing “sha la la” is executed with almost unnerving precision. It stands to follow that a band led by a singer whose exquisite pronunciation is shared by only two percent of her fellow Brits would have a thing for getting things just right. But this is rock ‘n’ roll. When nothing ever goes wrong, and everything is under total control, something is missing: fun.