Music

Martin Carr: The Breaks

Photo: Mary Wycherle

The ex-Boo Radley finally gives us his sophomore solo album. And while it's pretty good, we can only hope that Martin Carr will someday reconnect with his musically reckless self.


Martin Carr

The Breaks

Label: Tapete
US Release Date: 2014-09-26
UK Release Date: 2014-09-26
Amazon
iTunes

"A theme running through my work is not fitting in," admits singer/songwriter Martin Carr. It's odd that he feels that way because during a few moments in his career, Carr fit right in with his surroundings just fine. There's a song on his new album named "Mainstream", for crying out loud. When his old band the Boo Radleys were shifting gears from shoegaze to Britpop, the rest of the UK seemed to be doing the same thing. The band found mass success then lost it in the span of three magical albums – Giant Steps, Wake Up! and C'Mon Kids. After the Boo Radleys came apart, Carr took to being a one-man band called Brave Captain. As an entire world of amateur musicians were discovering how to record themselves on laptops and release their music through DIY channels, Martin Carr had perfected his own home recording approach and eventually retired the Brave Captain name. But even though he was slightly ahead of the no studio/(almost) no label curve of musical tinkerers back in 2000, Carr's broader musical approach was one that was getting lost in pop music's turn-of-the-century identity crisis. He self-released his first proper solo album Ye Gods and Little Fishes in 2009 and waited for the world to come knocking. Luckily the German label Tapete liked the demos for The Breaks enough to take a crack at its release.

It was around this time of Ye Gods that Carr made peace with the pop/radio friendly side of his musical personality and dove back into the sunny sounds that made the Boo Radleys a household name in the UK. Even after a five-year pause, The Breaks picks right up on what Ye Gods was suggesting: that Martin Carr still had a Wake Up! inside of him should he choose to let it out. The Breaksis almost dangerous in its Britpop approach since Carr's PR team is touting it as one of Carr's greatest albums. That's quite a claim to make, even if Giants Steps was the only album to his credit. So, is this truly his greatest achievement? Even before I heard a note of The Breaks, I knew there would be no simple answer to a question like that.

First, let's start with what's missing. The dense experimental layers of Brave Captain are not here. The restless studio hermit that secretly hoped there could be room for some hip-hop and free jazz in the mix is on sabbatical. Sice Rowbottom is not here to sing his ass off and there are no fuzzed-out guitars getting cranked to 11. The songs are straightforward, showing none of the bizarre U-turns that Carr would lead his former band through in the early days. Now that you've mentally removed those elements, think of the Boos final hour Kingsize, only with a good night's rest behind it, and you're getting closer.

The Breaks kicks the door open to let the sun in with "The Santa Fe Skyway", a jubilant keyboard and horn-driven number that sighs "Mary Jane / What a way to waste the day." The sun is out, it's 1995, and UK's greatest bands hate each other all over again! At least it feels that way. Those good vibes go for "St. Peter in Chains", which is quite the lyrical downer: "'Jesus loves us,' Sister Mary said / As she beat out the rhythm on the back of my head." The number is Britpop 'a' rockin' enough, but the chorus could have used a little more than just singing the song's title four times in sweet overdubbed harmonies.

After that, the album takes a somber but never depressing turn. "I tell myself / I'm happy as I am" sings Carr on "Mainstream", though you get the impression that he doesn't really mind the self deception. The warm '60s British invasion brass certainly helps. "Mountains" and "Senseless Apprentice" could both pass for lost Boo Radleys songs, though from different eras (for "Mountains", think of Wake Up!'s more mellow moments). Musically, Carr sounds comfortable, almost complacent. Lyrically, he can still be heavy-handed. For instance, "No Money in My Pocket" features with couplet early on: "If Jesus ran our chip shop all our fish would be free / But Jesus was a lefty / So they nailed him to a tree / You don't get on the wrong side of the business community." God, what happened to this guy back in the '90s? Fortunately, Carr walks back into less forced territory with the easy going almost-do-wop "I Don't Think I'll Make It": "Call me / Text me, tweet me, summon me to your heart." You just have to get used to the fact that he rhymes "heart" with "Descartes". But what comes next makes it all worthwhile: "I'll make every mistake there is."

The Breaks is a good little album, worthwhile even. But is it Martin Carr's best? I'm going to go ahead and say that it's not because it's just too mannered. Carr's finest moments doesn't have anything to do with the edge of youth or the futile discussion of "relevance", they happened when he just let his freak flag fly. That goes for the deafening guitars of the Boo Radleys just as well as the overly ambitious experiments of Brave Captain. The Breaks is just a pretty good pop album.

6
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.