Monday, 24 September 2012

James Cook - Arts & Sciences

Album review by KevW


Noel Fielding thinks that 'Arts & Sciences' is "a stroke of genius", but then Noel Fielding likes Kasabian. Still, there must be something about the music of James Cook that makes him worthy of our attention. He's no novice, that's for sure. Formerly the frontman of electro-rock band Nemo and also a collaborator with the hugely popular Mighty Boosh team, Cook has also won awards for his production work and this new album boasts a couple of choice collaborators in the form of Phil France (The Cinematic Orchestra) and Chris Corner (The Sneaker Pimps). While the majority of Cook's previous work has involved a more electric sound, he's also recorded a baroque pop album with Anne Marie Kirby, three tracks from which are reworked here. In short, the man is not exactly rookie in this business and we're entitled to expect something reasonably impressive from his latest work.

What we get is impressive to a point. If the Boosh connection is giving you ideas about some sort of comedy record then you can rest assured that although there's the odd witty lyric or two and songs like the title-track are definitely playful, he's not aiming for novelty here. So, baroque pop mixed with electro-rock then? Not really. For the most part 'Arts & Sciences' feels very organic despite the fact that loops and synths were used in its creation. 'Black Market Futures' and 'Sediment In Wine' are nearer to the cinematic chamber-pop of The Miserable Rich or Broken Records. Arrangements and production are laid on thick so a rich sound is abundant with even the slower tracks being loaded with a plucked violin or subtle string backing. There's not a duff track in the whole set, but at the same time there's nothing spine-tinglingly outstanding.

'Face To Face' as a song has the ability to soar and near the end it almost does, yet it never quite takes off like it should. Had this been given the full McAlmont & Butler treatment we could be looking at something spectacular instead of something good, the same could probably be said of the standout 'Wrong Empire'. 'The Self Machine' is a great alt-pop track where that electro-rock background is allowed to shine through and a few more tunes along a similar line wouldn't do the cause any harm. It's followed by 'Government Kid' which narrowly averts sounding a bit like The Stereophonics. 'Arts & Sciences' is a perfectly decent album that feels a bit like a compromise with Cook maybe holding back a little where he should push the boat out and aim higher. Listening to these ten songs you do believe that James Cook could be capable of moments of "genius", but barring the odd inspired twist he doesn't quite prove it here. Mind you, it's better than Kasabian.
 


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