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ballboy : Club Anthems

REVIEW: Ballboy: Club Anthems
3.26.2002 by Sean

ballboy: Club Anthems [Manifesto, 2002]

Two words? Brilliant taste.

Club Anthems is wonderful. From the steaming corpse of the creatively inert Belle & Sebastian comes a new Glaswegian quartet who not only channel the intelligent, melodic twee of Stuart and Co., but build upon it with tight power-pop delivery and a contagious energy that was absent even on Tigermilk's most bouncy tracks. ballboy moves easily from spoken-word to Lucksmiths-like acoustic pop, to groovy 50s-style malt shop anthems. The songwriting is superb, the instrumentation pleasingly simple (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards/xylophones), and the choruses suitably sing-along.

Club Anthems is a compilation of tracks taken from three British EPs, some of which have been rerecorded, coupled with a pair of new tracks. The disc isn't perfect, in fact, far from it, but the frustration I feel is in great part due to the pastiche nature of album. Rather than simply putting the five EPs end-to-end (as the Beta Band did with 3 EPs), the tracks appear to be mixed haphazard, with acoustic [versions of] songs butting up against poorly produced rock numbers and smooth spoken-word adventures. This makes it even more difficult to get a hold on the band and judge it properly: does this sound slightly subpar because the production's not very good? or because the song isn't? In general, however, I think it's the former. When singer Gordon McIntyre declares "I hate house music!" at the top of his lungs, it feels like an authentic epiphany; the subtle humour in his inflection permeates "A Day In Space", which fiercely recalls "A Space Boy Dream" from B&S' Boy With the Arab Strap. Still, "A Day in Space" is much funnier than the latter tune, and it circles back on its themes with a style that resembles the complex story-forms of Arab Strap. "I Hate Scotland" further reinforces this allusion, thanks to the dark, fat organ sound that opens the track (and the album).

The Belle and Sebastian comparisons are likely tiring - both for you, and for the band - but their influence is worn on ballboy's sleeve, evident even in their songs' recurring themes - sports, space, clumsy love affairs. Nevertheless, ballboy brings much to the table that's new. Songs like "Public Park" and "I've Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear" reveal a skill for full-blown pop numbers; unlike Belle and Sebastian, whose louder tunes are exactly the same as the wussier ones (only with the volume turned up), ballboy boasts exciting, novel arrangements that set the toes tapping, the hips wiggling, and all without even trying.

Club Anthems is by no means ballboy's swan-song. At least I hope it won't be. Despite the overwhelming charm of the songs and the acute awesomeness of a few of them ("I Hate Scotland", "Sex is Boring" - though I want to hear the electric version, and "A Day in Space"), I can't help but yearn for a cohesive album whose tracks have all been gone over with equal care. For all of the band's potential, at times here they sound amateurish, as if they didn't have the time they needed to wank around in studio and make all they could out of their sizable abilities.

If ballboy follows through on their promise, mark my words, they're gonna be huge.

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