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Steve Ward | Opening Night (Lucky)
Stepping out from full-time duty as frontman to power-popsters Cherry Twister, Steve Ward's solo debut stands head and shoulders above much of what purports to be heartfelt in the world of cosmetically-enhanced uber-pop. Much of Opening Night reads like an open letter to a lost love, often so beautifully presented one wonders if these songs re-kindled the dormant flame. Opener I Missed The Mark is a classic example of just how affecting pop music can be, a slow-building, layered epic with Ward's voice hitting home at just above a whisper - "From a strange land / You're making plans / In a language I can't understand." Subdued harmonies and a spot-on arrangement make the title an unintentional gag. The radio-friendly fodder of Switch It On follows, a sprightly throwaway in classic Matthew Sweet/Owsley style, though it's here that the disconcerting similarity of Ward's vocals to those of both Sweet and Del Amitri's Justin Currie shines through. By the third track, California, it's clear Ward is a master-pop-craftsman, but it's the slow-burning delights of Lucky Charm, Wings and Still Life (a none-too-distant stripped-down relative to I Missed The Mark) that show his originality making the more derivative Sweet-a-likes (the whimsical Good, the Smog Moon atmosphere of You Can Shine) seem less substantial. That said, Opening Night sets the standard for this year's inevitable continued onslaught of pop.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001