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Swell | Everybody Wants To Know (Beggars Banquet)
This sixth full-length from San Francisco's Swell marks the end of a ten-year collaboration between founder David Freel and long-time bassist Monte Vallier. Previewed heavily on last years Feed mini-album (five of those seven tracks reappear here), Vallier's absence is less than apparent. The Swell sound has always relied heavily on Freel's distinctive acoustic guitar, his stoned drawl and a heavy percussive presence. With Rey Washam taking up residence on the drum stool, when not usurped by a programmed alternative (as on the highlight ...A Velvet Sun), the trademarks remain in place. Lyrics always seemed to play second fiddle to the narcotic 'vibe' of Swell; non-sequiturs abound with the occasional stab at narrative. Everybody Wants To Know stands up to closer inspection and, although his intentions aren't always clear, Freel's an evocative wordsmith when he wants to be; check "Johnny Cash and Martha Stewart / Prison songs on how to do it / Ho Chi Min, and Marlo Thomas / Choosing sides brought that girl on us..." from Try Me or, more succinctly, East n West's "Crash down the steps like they're magic / Fuck the pain, 'cause pain's never lasted." the latter's colourful language limiting its chances of breaking onto daytime radio ?? otherwise it's as likely a hit for Swell as anything in their career. Throughout their history Swell have mined a similar vein but, unlike most, this one's all their own. Unique/oblique/tough to critique.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001

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