Music

Glasvegas: Glasvegas

There's not a lick of originality on this debut, but interestingly, that hardly matters.


Glasvegas

Glasvegas

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2009-01-06
UK Release Date: 2008-09-08
Internet release date: 2008-10-07
Amazon
iTunes

Upon first glimpse, everything about the Scottish foursome Glasvegas comes off as trite, unapologetically calculated, and even bordering on novelty. There's that terrible band name. The Jesus and Mary Chain ripoffs, from the waves of feedback to the pompadours, to the shades. The girl who drums standing up, Moe Tucker style. The blatant homages to the girl-group pop of Phil Spector and the Brill Building. The pop culture references. The constant singing in an intentionally thick Glaswegian brogue. Lyrics that, when they aren't dripping with sappiness, unironically quote children's rhymes. Alan McGee's drooling over the band's look and sound, precipitating a tsunami of hype from the British music press. Raw-sounding demos praised by indie bloggers replaced by an album boasting slick, grandiose, mainstream-friendly production in the vein of Oasis and U2. Without even a Stateside release date, leading up to the September UK release of their eponymous debut full-length, it seemed like Glasvegas was already primed for a backlash.

However, even the most contrived music can work if the artist sells it convincingly enough, and although theoretically Glasvegas has no business being as good as it is, its likeable, rosy-hued earnestness casts aside any doubts. The overblown Rich Costey production, cleverly offsetting those Psychocandy-like squalls of noise and dreamy Spectorian melodies with a very clean, bombastic mix, creates an appropriate backdrop for singer James Allan's tales of teen melodrama, perfectly exemplified by the two terrific 2007 singles, "Daddy's Gone" and "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry". While the record's undeniable hooks draw us in, though, it's the album's recurring theme of childhood innocence lost, and the sincerity in Allan's singing, that cinches it.

"Kids can be cruel, that's fair to say," Allan sings on "Lonesome Swan", defiantly bucking the trend set by more self-referential UK acts like Art Brut and Los Campesinos, opting for direct sentimentality instead. When a grown man writes a song about an abandoned pedal boat, you know it's going to get syrupy, but when Allan chooses to focus on the fate of his young protagonists (presumably set in Allan's tough childhood neighborhood of Dalmarnock), combined with those oft-imitated "Be My Baby" intro beats and twinkling 6/8 melodies, it's genuinely affecting. A kid sees his family torn apart ("All I wanted was a kick-a-bout in the park / For you to race me home when it was nearly getting dark"). A boy desperately tries to make his father proud by participating in a schoolyard fight ("If he wants you to run away / Don't you fucking run away"). Another is confronted with gang violence and has to make a decision ("I seen their swords and their knives / And I changed my mind").

The album’s opening trifecta of songs is extraordinary, brilliantly milking pop music cliché for all it’s worth. The gorgeous “Flowers and Football Tops” starts off plaintively and erupts with those emotional bursts of guitar noise as a father learns of his son’s death, the well-meaning streetside shrine in the song’s title serving as no consolation, and the song concludes with Allan audaciously but mournfully crooning “You Are My Sunshine”. Even better is the sweet “Geraldine”, the one song on this rather bleak album that attempts to let some light in, Allan and his bandmates playing the Jesus and Mary Chain card to the hilt, his social worker narrator offering compassion in a cruel world. “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” is as over the top in its misery as the title implies, almost comically so ("Liar liar pants on fire / Lies, alibis, lies, more alibis"), but Allan’s anguished delivery makes such childish lines plausible, the bombastic refrains punctuated by Caroline McKay’s spartan, metronomic drumming.

At times Glasvegas teeters precipitously towards the ham-fisted. The original rockabilly arrangement for “Stabbed” is abandoned in favor of a nearly ludicrous spoken word piece backed by Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. “Ice Cream Van” takes heavy-handedness to a new level ("Bring back the glory days / Active citizenship and pure community"), but the album never wavers, even though that tightrope walk is sometimes far from graceful. While a band like the Raveonettes takes a considerably more nuanced and savvy approach to a similar formula, on this record, James Allan’s blunt, sensitive tough-guy act manages to pack an emotional wallop that will catch many folks off-guard. The album’s a bit of a fluke, no question, but it’s also an absolute gem.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

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.