Chris Murphy: Elbow Room

Jason MacNeil

Aussie musician seems to take Crowded House's debut album to heart with consistently well-crafted, harmony-heavy pop jewels.

Chris Murphy

Elbow Room

Amazon: 1138266000
Label: Popboomerang
Australia release date: 2006-01-26
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: Unavailable

Australian musician and Perth-based singer Chris Murphy fronted his own group, the Rhymes (previously called Murphy's Lore), prior to this record coming out. Now, with his first solo album under his belt, Murphy has been able to cull the most out of listening to some of Australia's and New Zealand's biggest bands, including Crowded House and Neil Finn. Citing Crowded House's self-titled debut as a huge influence, Murphy has certainly created that soft, highbrow pop flavor on several of these songs, including the safe but quite solid "Movie Star Beautiful", which would fit on any of Finn's solo albums and resembles the song "Anytime" off his Seven Worlds Collide live release. Smooth and extremely infectious, Murphy nails the song with some subtle keyboards and guitars that are never over the top. And while it goes over the traditional three minutes, it's a hook that is well worthy of the five minutes and change it gets.

"Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall" is a similarly crafted pop gem, with Murphy reaching just a hair too much for that falsetto voice in the chorus. Some strings greet the bridge in a quasi-Beatles fashion, but it's not overkill by any stretch. A trumpet solo by Adrian Kelly pushes the envelope a tad further, yet it all works well. What causes one to scratch one's head is how he seems to toss the Finn resemblance aside for the denim jeans, white t-shirt, and boyish grin of Bryan Adams circa Waking Up the Neighbours on the rowdy, guitar-heavy "Come and Get Me". The raspy delivery is eerily like that of Mr. Adams, with the production values ripped from the Cliff Notes of Mutt Lange. It's not the best track here, and fortunately the exception to the above average norm. "World and Universe" returns to the pop smarts and finely tuned melodies as Murphy balances between radio-friendly pop and adult contemporary.

Like most albums, there tends to be a few change ups in the style of songs, including the slower, soulful "Another Sleepless Night", which is propelled by a Hammond organ courtesy of Tim Count that takes it to another level. Think of something that Jamie Cullum might do without being so hyperactive, or perhaps Ed Harcourt or David Gray, and you would get a good idea of where this is heading. The lone problem here is how limply it ends, with not even a moderate flourish to flesh the song out. "Planets" takes things down to a lower, almost lifeless tempo in the vein of Extreme's "More Than Words". Murphy tries to give it a roots-like vibe, but it is too little and too melancholic throughout. And just when you want Murphy to kick things up a notch, he offers up a slick and rather insipid "You Take Me to Heaven" that has a cliché backbeat and a safe arrangement that is better suited for people like Daniel Bedingfield. Thankfully, he alters things for the better with the swinging, snazzy, and jazzy "Electric Chair" that would fit perfectly on a Beautiful South album.

For the most part, Murphy is at his level best when he levels with himself and realizes that not copying but using what works for Neil Finn/Crowded House/Finn Brothers isn't a very bad thing. This is especially true during "Falling Apart" (and the cute child laughs that wrap it up) and on "Confide", the latter relying on a somewhat soulful sound and strong harmonies to drive the song home. "Your Pretty Little Head" reverts to the Adams/Leppard/Lange structure for an average, funkified pop picture. The surprise of the album comes during the subtle but powerful "Good Deeds", which has horns, acoustic guitar, and a jazzy-meets-campfire melody. Murphy has done several good deeds on this album, one that Finn fanatics would do themselves well seeking out.

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