Since his debut, Jim Noir has matured into a fuzzy pop pleasure.
During Euro 2004, an advertisement was all over the TV -- you may remember it -- that had two young Brazilian boys playing soccer with the best footballers of all time. The digital manipulation of the players was perfect, but the thing left a lasting impression because, in just a minute or two, it left such a strong flavour of the power of the imagination. Jim Noir's song "Eanie Meany" provided the soundtrack: "If you don't give my football back / I'm gonna set my dad on you". That commercial provided the momentum for the Mancunian singer-songwriter to collect together his previous EPs and collate a debut, Tower of Love.
That album had its moments -- "Eanie Meany" is still nostalgic and sweet, and "Key of C" and "My Patch" are effective pieces of twee-pop among the gentle multitude that followed after Belle & Sebastian and then the Boy Least Likely To laid groundwork. That whole moevment's beginning to seem a little affected a few years on, isn't it? The good news is Jim Noir is a much more coherent and complete album from start to finish. It should be how a majority of listeners are introduced to the singer, because his persona on this self-titled release is much more mature, and (thereby) much more interesting, than it was a few years ago.
While you wouldn't call it a concept album, the 13 tracks on Jim Noir follow some sort of progression: he opens with a welcoming gesture to "Captain Jameson" (I'm assuming the liquor), and towards the end of the album reprises the welcome as if to say that this burst of creativity and joy has erupted between the first drink and the last. It's entirely in Noir's character as a singer-songwriter that the journey in between is unfailingly optimistic, but where before that may have been because he was adopting a child's persona, now the outlook is completely adult.
What's more, Noir's songwriting has improved, and his musical voice has changed substantially. This album is covered in a sheen of warm fuzz from high distorted guitars and the continual brush of sticks on cymbals. "Ships and Clouds" might be the prototypical song: with slightly stronger-bitten bass synths and endless layers of vocals, the song comes off poppy but sophisticated. "Don't You Worry", the obvious first single, takes a hook straight from Oasis and reverb-laced guitar from The Bends and makes it Noir's own, all fuzzy melody and celebratory horns. Perfect for a summer picnic or, eh, another Adidas commercial perhaps.
Instead of childish reminiscences, now we have nostalgia for "Good Old Vinyl". The song's actually entirely successful: the opening undermines a simple, familiar piano chord progression with a high, buzzing drone as if to say You're not listening to this on vinyl, are you? It's a neat little joke in a song that's not afraid to poke fun at itself. In the middle, Noir sings "I'd use cassette, but the quality's poor" -- in the background he overlays the countermelody "It's not poor", then reconsiders "Or is it?" The moment plays as genuinely funny and charming.
OK, Noir can still be goofy. "All Right" takes his voice and vocoders it to the point of ridicule until things settle down into a more straightforward piece of electropop. A spoken-word section of "Same Place Holiday" is less effective, almost facile, and the looped simple-above-anything-else "Day by Day by Day" lessens its potential impact through overstating the song's main point: "I like to go through my life day by day". Actually, things coalesce into something quite interesting in the last minute or so, when two vocal lines weave together in counterpoint -- it just could have happened sooner. It's tics like these that mean Noir's music won't appeal to everyone.
But that's just fine. Jim Noir puts its creator's persona right out there; love it or ignore it, it won't be the last you'll be hearing of this singer-songwriter.