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The Webb Brothers | s/t (679 Recordings)
Missing, presumed mangled by major label misanthropy, The Webb Brothers belatedly return with a full-fat follow-up to 2000's sophomore outing 'Maroon.' Having recruited another family member (Justin and Christaan Webb are now joined by little brother James), swapped labels and seemingly lost the ability to come up with album titles (even the Velvet Underground shouldn't have been allowed to give their third LP a lazy eponymous name), it's evident that album number three is somewhat of a slate-cleaner for the mop-haired offspring of songwriting 'legend' Jimmy Webb.
By ditching some of the druggy ennui and seventies rock smudge, that let down the band's first two long-players, in favour of some sharper melodies, tri-part harmonies and a few electronic embellishments, it's evident that the lengthy lay-off has refreshed the band's sonic palate for the better. There's now a clearer distinction between the dreamy and rocking elements of the band's oeuvre for starters, which allows the beefier pop songs to burn with a little more bravado and for the slow-burners to melt with more graceful subtly. Hence the stomping Heaven's Never Letting Me In slams The Beach Boys into an AC/DC-like bad boy boogie and the crunchy Ms. Moriaty slings New Order synths into a boisterous Buffalo Tom-flavoured college rock blender. The more sedate side of the brothers' songwriting spectrum also glides into more assured realms, especially on the gorgeous former single The Chill and on pathos-fuelled Because It's Friday, which finally put paid to accusations that the band can't do ballads without resorting to irony.
In-between the consolidation and reconfiguration of previously-visited stylistic avenues, the threesome also push themselves into a few new areas of possibility. Which means dipping a toe or two into Latin-barroom shuffling on Jonesy Vs. The Apocalypse, joining the space-pop race on the soaring Grandaddy-tinged Funny Ol' Kind of Music and steering themselves into string-soaked cinematics on the grandiose instrumental finale Bitten By Snakes. Whilst this is undoubtedly the best Webb Brothers album to date, there's still some room for improvement. It would nicer if the three could just put a smidgen more of their personal identities into the songs; if each sibling's character were to bleed into their individually penned/sung songs then there might be even more emotional edge given to their maturing craftsmanship. Furthermore, a tight rein needs to be kept on the studio arrangements to keep things from boiling over into showy musicianship. But such things are only cause for concern when the group revisit the studio to nail-down their four full-length, because in isolation this record still stands up as one of 2003's most lustrous and unpretentious power-pop pleasures.