It takes some time to get into this adventurous, bold and frankly difficult pop album from former Race Horses frontman Meilyr Jones.
It’s a mix of soul/dance music in the style of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and all manner of orchestral instruments: one comparison is early ELO — but far more the debut Electric Light Orchestra days than Mr Blue Sky, and equally hit and miss.
As always, it’s the voice that counts and we struggled to accept Jones’s fey, heading-towards-falsetto vocals though you might find them immediately joyful and emotive. It’s true praise to say that we didn’t know what to make of this at first play, but we’ve got to like it more and more and it’s growing to be a potential album of the year. It’s an endearing body of work.
Opener How To Recognise a Work of Art starts with the same catchy drumbeat as Primal Scream’s Rocks before soulful brass comes in; very Dexy’s. You can see why it’s on first; it doesn’t sound too out there and won’t frighten the children. We had some doubts about the voice but the song’s promising.
Don Juan opens with harpsichord and a flute, with strings and it’s the one that started getting us hooked. It’s well composed and played; up to Jeff Lynne standards on a technical level.
Passionate Friend opens with piano and bassoon (we think, and possible percussion from the piano) delivering a classical equivalent of the Rocks intro.
To give some idea of the musical leaps he takes: Rome sounds like he’s sampled a Bach chamber orchestra piece, while Strange Emotional rips off the little-known riff of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water for an otherwise gentle pop number.
Standouts are How To Recognise a Work of Art — it’s easy — and the intro to Don Juan, but closer Be Soft is also good.
This classical pop thing has been done before: Jeff Lynne was obviously very good at it but we remember more recently The Miserable Rich, whose career was less successful. Jones has an advantage, with an existing fanbase: as well as Race Horses, he’s played bass with Neon Neon and collaborated with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Euros Childs.
If you like this, try Andrew Montgomery’s Ruled By Dreams.