Are you ‘a sucker for a pop hook’? Consider yourself ‘sold’.
Willie Dowling, the songwriter behind much of Jackdaw4’s debut album, Gramophone Logic, has never claimed to have his finger on the pulse of popular music… but, given much of what’s being declared popular by the masses these days, that’s probably best.
“From what I see on my screen and hear in the short minutes that I can stand listening to the radio, all is lost. I find 90% of all pop music, whatever the genre, truly appalling,” he declares. Of that remaining 10%, “5% is tolerable, and 5% is genuinely worth listening to, whether it’s hip-hop, soul, metal, pop, rock… whatever. I find it counter-productive to think of myself as more allied to one type of music/band than another. It’s songs that intrigue me.”
So Dowling, a former member of Honeycrack and the Sugar Plum Fairies, as well as serving a stint with the Wildhearts, wrote some songs. When he needed help playing the bits that he couldn’t play, he invited some friends into the studio. As it turned out, they all liked playing together, and the next thing you know, Willie Dowling, Greg Hatwell, Andy Lewis, and Andy Robertson were… Jackdaw4!
Actually, that’s simplifying things a bit too much. ¾ of Jackdaw4 had actually already been in the aforementioned Sugar Plum Fairies together, so there’d been existing camaraderie. But when Robertson entered the picture, he became the final piece of the puzzle and at that point they were…the Celebrity Squares. But that name didn’t pan out. For one, it already belonged to a TV show, and for another, Dowling didn’t feel it particularly fit the band or its material any longer. So, after consulting The Big Book of Bands and Their Secret Agendas and making sure that their new choice of moniker was available, then they were… Jackdaw4!
Trying to describe the group’s sound without referencing several important hallmarks of American and British pop music is impossible, so let’s not beat around the bush; Dowling’s musical touchstones are the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Slade, the Sex Pistols, and Elvis Costello. But if you’ve gotta have influences, there are far worse available.
That Dowling and company are occasionally borrowing from the Brian Wilson sound is undeniable, as the Beach Boys are name-checked within the lyrics of “The Day I Wrote the Book”, a song that, in its two and a half minutes, is as much of a pop symphony as anything on Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk. Three tracks later, they perform a similar maneuver with “Karaoke Ballet”, its lyrics declaring, “Live music is dead / The funeral’s on Thursday / Bring a bottle and a bird”.
No, don’t panic, Jackdaw4 aren’t studio mole men who only emerge into daylight to buy more coffee and cigarettes. (They have interns to do that.) Dowling is “particularly proud of the noise we make on stage,” and he’s not the only one. The website http://www.scuzz.com caught one of the band’s gigs in March 2005 and observed, “It’s weird to think that this is the same twin-guitar/bass/drums set-up used by so many uninspiring and uninspired bands, yet here it is producing a sound that’s alive with possibilities, a sound that affects.”
Unlike a lot of bands who could be lazily lumped into the stigma-ridden genre of power pop, however, Jackdaw4 don’t just go for the easy, catchy chorus. The arrangements on Gramophone Logic are as unique and intricate as those of the Wondermints and, yes, the aforementioned Sturmer and Manning. But it’s less that Jackdaw4 sound like Jellyfish as it is that, as Dowling himself has suggested, they both “rip from the pool of the same bands, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, mostly harmony heavy, mostly rich in melody, and more often than not, songwriters with something to say.”
Call it a case of parallel evolution, then, as comparisons to other, more recent artists abound, though none are overwhelming to the point of anyone shouting, “Clone!” Still, “Strange Attraction” could be a lost Crowded House song, “Stupid” is decidedly Squeeze-y, and “Everything I See” sounds for all the world like an outtake from Francis Dunnery’s Fearless.
The members of Jackdaw4 aren’t naive; though the voice in the back of Dowling’s head screams, “World domination”, he’ll settle for selling enough copies to maintain a lifestyle where they can “make records, and tour, and not have to go hungry.”
Won’t you please help put food in their bellies and strings on their guitars? Pick up Gramophone Logic today. Operators are standing by.