Soundchecks Music Reviews
Weapons Of Mass Entertainment / Universal
review by Andrew Darlington
Just how much Platinum Weirdness can you take? This is Dave Stewart's retro-project. And for the man The Daily Mirror once called "the maddest rock star on the planet" it's a game of several parts. Supposedly it's his pre-Eurythmics outfit from 1974, originally created with enigmatic lost waif Erin Grace, now re-conjured on period-technology and using period-instrumentation, with Dave's current musical squeeze Kara DioGuardi. And all the ingredients of a classic scam are in place. On the highly entertaining, cleverly contrived tie-in DVD someone mentions Pat Benatar, and sure enough the title track has the kind of stridency to carry that comparison. But weirdness?
Make Believe is a florid touchy-feely sweet-natured confection of a record. Kara can do sultry, when she's oozing "I feel like I've been dying here underneath these sheets" she has a smoky sexuality roughened by an attractive husky edge and - yes, just a suggestion of Fleetwood Mac's clean expansive MOR airiness (on Will You Be Around). Then she descends into the lost desolation of "what kind of river won't let me drown" with its little rolling Lennon-esque piano rill (on Lonely Eyes), while Happiness has a looping guitar figure over an easy guitar-strum - "how to go from good to bad to worse" with subdued mellotron sounds. The lyrical mood is a reflective melancholia, the loss consistent and largely unrelieved. But the emphasis is very much on liking - or not liking, Kara's voice. There's little soloing or instrumental flourish.
If You Believe In Love carries a tune reminiscent of Blondie's Dreamin' on the kind of pulsing Fleetwood Mac backbeat that deluged 1970s' FM radio and formed the background music-of-choice for a million chattering classes' dinner parties. It can be anthemic and motivationally empowering - "love can heal, love can burn stronger than anything you've ever felt before," building as distorted guitars reinforce, but never dominate, with tinkling keyboard behind Kara's vocals, until strings come in to lift her voice.
It can be Marillion-alike (Piccadilly Lane - "Lavender Blue dilly-dilly...") as Dave sings "London town, and the cobblestones are all black" with occasional Bowie vocal inflections and slivers of ragged busking harmonica. Kara contributes breathy harmonies over medieval string quartet and harpsichord minuet, but again - from 'the maddest rock star on the planet', it's not quite enough to qualify as 'weird' - and the weirdness is never allowed to dominate.
Perhaps it should have been? If the album's title Make Believe is also a clue to the project, then it's all in keeping with the supposed period and genre. Even if its perky pastiche might not be quite as clever as it thinks it is, with an obviousness that is, initially, a bit of a turn-off. And although its colour-by-numbers gush and twinkle can get you by the soft bits, it leaves you wondering, is there really still a market-opening for background music for the chattering classes' dinner parties� or do they all listen to Arctic Monkeys these days?
for PIGASUS Press