Britain's new bubblegum soul man croons his way to the top. But will we all go into sugar shock?"
Rinaldi Sings' Steve Rinaldi certainly knows what he's doing. From just a glance at the liner notes of What's It All About?, his debut solo album (he was a member of indie band the Moment for years), anyone can see his focus, his goal. Rinaldi wants to take the world by storm by bringing back the antithesis of the tiresome New York rock of now: that cheerful, brass-laden bubblegum Motown of the late '60s, with a hint of Tony Orlando/Tom Jones bravado thrown in. It's not cool, it's not careless, it's not dark, but it is, well, cheesy.
Rinaldi deserves credit for going against the grain, and has become a critical favorite in his home of England. But is that because it's a great album, or because the NME is simply sick of talking about the Libertines? I found myself really enjoying Rinaldi's smooth, charming delivery at the beginning of the album, with the highlight "Happy". "Happy" is a truly ridiculous bubblegum gem, all groovy horns and crooning. But though Rinaldi's voice is pleasant, his arrangements catchy, and his songs singable, after a few tracks it all gets to be a bit much.
The liner notes themselves demonstrate this: There's Rinaldi on a Vespa playing a trombone! And there he is superimposed into a 1960s "Top of the Pops" set! It's sort of funny, and like fellow Englishman Robbie Williams, Steve Rinaldi performs his songs with a constant ironic smirk. But where Williams was clever and self-effacing, Rinaldi gets too lost in his shtick to bother. For example, after "Happy" comes "On a Magic Carpet Ride", which just seems like a lazy attempt to poke fun at a tired cliché.
The songs on What's It All About?, though increasingly cloying, are insanely catchy, and Rinaldi deserves credit for making it look easy. Writing a catchy tune is hard, and to my surprise, after listening to the album only twice I was singing along without even knowing it. There's a mid-tempo break halfway through the album with gems such as the Britpop-sounding "You're Alive" and "Lucky Day", though perhaps I only like them because they are the two genre departures on the album. Rinaldi does better when he lays off the brass and uses his cuddly Damon Albarn vocals to reveal something more honest.
The rest of the album (labeled "side two", naturally), is smooth and poppy, but it's overkill. Hearing any one of these songs on the radio would make me happy, but listening to them all at once is like eating an entire bag of Oreos in one sitting: I feel weary and bloated, wondering what it was I ever liked about them. Perhaps Steve Rinaldi should take a cue from his 1960s predecessors and realize that a few 45s can go a long way. This blue-eyed crooner could conquer the singles market, but as it stands a whole album is sickly-sweet pop overload.