Cue up "This is How it Ends", the opening track on the Scooters first full-length, I Can See Your House From Here, and -- if you're familiar with this Welsh foursome -- you might find that you're surprised at what you hear. It's a ballad. Not that the Scooters debut EP, 2000's critical favorite Peepshow, didn't have some somber, brooding moments. Hey, it had a few ballads, too. But Peepshow first became a hit in the US amongst the power-pop audience, and that was for a reason. It was packed with eight punchy, hook-filled pop songs.
So, after a year of relative fame in the United States, highlighted by an appearance at the annual International Pop Overthrow festival, the Scooters may be outgrowing cult stardom. Yes, the power-pop audience is a devoted one, but this band may just be too big for that little scene.
I Can See Your House From Here finds the Scooters moving past the three minute pop single and into more heady territory. And while I'm loath to compare them to the mopey modern Britpoppers (coughs Travis, Coldplay), the comparison is accurate. Although it seems like the Scooters may be a bit late in the game to cash in on that trend -- Travis and Coldplay do, after all, have a bit of a monopoly on that scene -- with I Can See Your House From Here they've released a fully-realized, hook filled, sadly beautiful record.
Peepshow was a hit because it showed remarkable maturity and diversity in songwriting for a debut EP. In the course of eight tracks, the band referenced British pop from the '60s through new wave (particularly Squeeze) and on up through modern Britpop. So it should come as no surprise that by the time they followed-up with their first full length, the band had only grown even more. The pop of Peepshow seems simple next to the complex, emotional work on I Can See Your House From Here. Much like Travis, they may have started out as a rowdy party band, but, also much like Travis, they grew up.
Fans of Peepshow may be skeptical, and I know that I certainly was at first. The late '90s trend of British pop bands taking themselves too seriously produced more than a few flawed albums from otherwise great bands (look at what happened to Blur). But from the sad opener "This is How it Ends" right on through the even more emotional "The Hardest Thing" (an excellent piano-based ballad heavily reminiscent of Coldplay's "Trouble"), I Can See Your House From Here is a listener's delight.
Before reviewing this album, I gave it what I call the "car test": I took a drive along the coast with this in my CD player, to see if anything bit. This particular method of courtship suits pop records best since they are, after all, practically assembled for the thrill of speeding around curves with the window down. The opposite is true of records that require a bit more attention. I Can See Your House From Here is notable, then, because it passed the car test marvelously despite being a fairly downbeat, subtle affair (of course, the fact that it was a sunny yet cold February day may have helped). And maybe that speaks for its universality, and why fans of Peepshow may like this just as much as the coffeehouse crowd.
There is a lone rocker, "GBH", dispensed with early in the running order. A fairly good, though not great, tune it would've fit right in on Peepshow but here feels strangely out of place. This album's real charm lies in the ballads and the sonic detail. "Guess Who", for instance, exposes the band's power-pop roots with an ornate "ahhh/ahhh" backing vocal, but exhibits complexity and maturity that was only hinted at on their debut EP. The heavy yet steady (and probably programmed) drum track holds the song together, while acoustic guitar and keys paint a decidedly more complex landscape in the forefront. And Anthony Carey's vocal, which is plaintive on the verses but turns a series of awkward lyrical phrases on the chorus, walks the line between sad and wistful. The end result is something that has to be heard.
The entire disc is full of similar sonic detail. The production on Peepshow was praised in many circles, and producer John Mastro holds the band to the same high standards here. While some of the ornate background vocals could've easily slipped into ear-candy territory, they sound atmospheric and mystical rather than processed. And the use of added musicians, such as a string section on "This is How It Ends" and horns on "Broadway Mission" and "You Want It All", serves to add considerable depth and bite. And on repeat listens, some of the more subtle stylistic shifts -- like the hard rock bridge in "Tranny Song" and the alt-country leaning of "5 O'Clock" -- gradually begin to creep out. Repeat listens are very, very kind to this record.
At a time when myriad bands -- particularly those from across the pond -- are making ornate, ballad-heavy pop, I Can See Your House From Here may be overlooked as the work of imitators who entered the game too late. But those who stop to take a listen to this gem, or who go to see the Scooters at any of their dates on their extensive US tour, will almost certainly be impressed by this beautiful little album.