Monday, 3 September 2007

Last Tango In Belgrade

Download: Beirut - Guaymas Sonora

It would seem that everybody has been going totally crazy for Beirut over the last year or so. Melancholic wailing, Balkan pop pastiche and the fact he is really rather handsome has turned him into some drunken messiah, supposedly in the same way that the Arcade Fire grabbed us with Funeral. New saviours and geniuses seem to come much faster with the internet, don’t they? Tortured geniuses to save our lives are piled on us constantly by Pitchfork in their desperate quest for the new Neutral Milk Hotel and none of these new heroes have really lived up to the tag. Funeral still sounds majestic, but Neon Bible has proved that that level of transcendence remains a one-off; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were frankly rubbish; and, truth be told, Zach Condon is good but not really that awesome.

Enough has been said already about the fact that Beirut isn’t the real deal, so I’m not going to moan about that. I said of Gulag Orkestar, Beirut’s debut, that it was almost a case of ‘style as substance’. It was homage to European music, a celebration by appropriation, a tribute to the enduring and widespread appeal of Balkan sounds, that they could be adored and meaningful whether played by a cute indie boy in Albuquerque, New Mexico or gypsies in Serbia.

Of course, this ‘style as substance’ approach was never going to have enduring appeal. The arrangements were lush and fascinating, the voice was suitably melancholic, the atmosphere mysterious and boozily European, but there were few engaging melodies or lyrics. Sometimes Condon showed flashes of interest in song-writing, the irresistibly catchy Postcards from Italy or Elephant Gun were little slices of pop in what otherwise could be a surprisingly difficult album (the sound certainly wasn’t for everyone), whilst Idle Days (Mount Wroclai) showed that the boy could write decent words, despite an expressed disinterest in them. The problem was, though, that Gulag Orkestar was too tied up in the importance of its arrangements to provide any lasting tunes, and so it blurred into one lovely, hazy atmosphere rather than a collection of Balkan-flavoured songs.

And this brings us to the new album, The Flying Club Cup, a record supposedly influenced by French chansons in the same way that its predecessor was influenced by Balkan gypsies. The problem is the French influence doesn’t really appear. Fleeting glimpses of it are caught in repeated listens: snatches of French dialogue, Gallic inflections, but really this is just Gulag Orkestar Part II – only with even fewer tunes. There, after a gigantic preamble I’ve dismissed the fucking thing in three sentences. There is a saving grace though, the gorgeous Guaymas Sonora, still Balkan tinged, but impossible beautiful. Gorgeous string arrangements (I believe provided by string arranger du jour, Owen Pallett), glockenspiel, yearning vocals and a lilting melody combine to make you long to be wandering down the Left Bank, hand in hand with some beautiful, chain smoking girl who you want to be with but know deep down you don’t really love. The type that smiles at you condescendingly, saying “You’re not really good enough for me”, but kisses you back anyway. The type who inspires the lust where you get drunk and just stare across the table of the café-bar and shake your head as a single tear drips down your face, and maybe hers too. The sort of girl who drives you from the analytical towards over-cleverness and Sixth Form poetry that you know is clichéd, but is kind of arrogantly beautiful anyway.

1 comment:

Nestor said...

While I really enjoyed reading that, I think I disagree muchly. Although I'm not entirely sure what I'm disagreeing with... I agree Beirut doesn't quite live up to "new Neutral Milk Hotel", but I also don't think there's any reason for them to be compared...

I don't really think that Pitchfork is "looking for a new Neutral Milk Hotel" - because, whatever criticisms you can throw at it, it's certainly very rare they overhype stuff - Pitchfork confessed that Gulag Orkestar had gained a hell of lot of hype (from blogs, etc) way before their review, which wasn't *that* positive anyway... perhaps valid about Funeral and CYHSY but I think those are both great records in their own right (deserved the praise from Pitchfork), and the follow-ups... well, they're not.

I suppose "and so it blurred into one lovely, hazy atmosphere" is something I'd much prefer to "a collection of Balkan-flavoured songs", and that's why I love the new record so much... Or something.

Maybe I'm just bitter because I less than three The Flying Cub Cup but no-one seems to feel the same way...

Myeh, this post is completely unfocused, I'm not really sure what my point is. Keep posting Tristan :) :) :)