Strange and Beautiful
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2005, Volume 12, #4
Written by T.J. Simon
Aqualung is not a Jethro Tull cover band, but rather it is the piano pop recording moniker of Matt Hales, a London native with a classical music background. Likewise, his U.S. debut Strange and Beautiful isnít really a new album; instead itís a fusion of his two highly acclaimed U.K. releases. Halesí singing voice recalls that of Radioheadís Thom Yorke, and his composition style sounds a lot like Coldplay or Keane in the midst of a bi-polar episode of depression. There are some fine moments in the discís first act, most notably the Portishead influences of the tracks Falling Out of Love and Good Times Gonna Come. Moreover, Brighter than Sunshine is nothing less than a pure pop masterpiece that likely will translate into a worthy radio single. In other words, when his game is on, Hales can mix the piano with slick drum loops and symphonic flourishes with the best of them. Unfortunately, by the second half of Strange and Beautiful, the combination of the moping, piano-heavy balladry and Halesí falsetto whine proves to be too much to take. Left Behind has a promising beginning, but never goes anywhere, and If I Fall sacrifices basic melody for a brooding mood.
Much has been made of the depth of Aqualungís lyrics, but on Strange and Beautiful, itís difficult to find a basis for such praise. On Extraordinary Things, for example, Hales sings, "Just because itís the end of the beginning/Doesnít mean itís the beginning of the end." Lyrics like that arenít deep; theyíre simply the sort of thing that is written in someoneís high school yearbook. The album concludes with Another Little Hole, and itís no surprise as to where that hole might be. Thatís right ó itís "in her heart." Such sad-sack lyricism is precisely the reason that Prozac is on the market. While most artists see melancholy as yet another arrow in their quivers, Hales presents himself as a one-trick pony by refusing to add some diversity to his palette, and although indie pop ought not to mimic Up with People, listeners deserve more than this perpetual downer of an album. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box