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James Macdonald | Elevator Music For Unrequited Lovers (Laughing Outlaw)
It is a long held rumour that an intended Jim O'Rourke project is an album of covers of songs that are, by and large, perceived as crap by the more discerning. Whether it will ever come to fruition remains to be seen, but I guess that Lou Barlow's marvellous cover of Foreigner's Cold As Ice or Thea Gilmore's take on Paula Abdul's Straight Up would capture the gist of his intentions. On this second album, Melbourne-based James Macdonald 'interprets' twat-in-a-cap Gilbert O'Sullivan's staggeringly dreadful Alone Again. Now that was crap. That was a crime virtually unparalleled in the history of popular music, although the entire output of Tin Machine runs it close. Yeah, sweet sentiments on behalf of the jilted and bereaved 'n' all, but all I can see whenever I hear that gooey monstrosity is a bunch of spotty gits with feather-cut mullets, unfeasibly large trousers and primary coloured tank tops, swaying with satin scarves above their heads on some '70s youth TV prog hosted by Mike Mansfield. Not a pretty thought, and one I wish never, ever to entertain again. Macdonald's cover is totally straight, and it sounds just as horrid as the original. I'd have been a mite more impressed had he done to it what Fatima Mansions did to Shiny Happy People - i.e. demolished it. But, before you call Qantas with murder in mind, please consider that around 85% of the rest of this album is absolutely wondrous!  The first five tracks - those that lead up to it - are glorious, summery, '60s Bacharach-brushed pop to truly make the heart sing. Euphoric, horn-driven opener Won't Be Long, dreaming of escape from the drudgery of daily grind, soars as Haircut 100 meet Eric Matthews, where Macdonald's honeyed tones recall Ken Stringfellow and, particularly, Neil Finn - two of the finest voices in contemporary pop - fine by me. (Four tracks in, Complete and the later Because of You are vintage Crowded House, in fact, and either would have been an effortless smash if recorded and released by the defunct melody mob). Latin lounge influences come to the fore in Elevator Music (Just One Kiss) and Fool In Love; a classily observed beach bar bossanova and accordion-pinned tango respectively. The banjo-fired Blue Jaw is Marc Almond - The Bluegrass Years, perhaps prompting a lunatic American hack - who had best remain unnamed - to paint Macdonald as 'Hank Williams in a crushed velour suit'. Ridiculous, considering that Peter Somerville's silky banjo here is the only link whatsoever to country music. Excepting the multi-layered Beach Boys loveliness of This Song, and the smoky cocktail lounge balladry of Rather Be With You, the latter half (the songs following it) of 'EMFUL' sags just a little in comparison to what has preceded it, but even they grow in stature with repeated listenings. Sparklingly self- produced, James Macdonald has the sound and feel of a man from whom a startling pop masterpiece is forthcoming, and I have every confidence in him to deliver. Just no more Giblet O'Dulliman, okay James?

Tom Sheriff
August 2002