Magic Kids - Memphis
Harry Milburn 09/08/2010
If you're reading this review through a pair of rose tinted spectacles, on a silver lined cloud 9, whilst sipping from a glass half full; then Magic Kids present 'Memphis'- the new soundtrack to your life. If, however, the thought of digesting 11 tracks of tooth achingly-sweet pop leaves you feeling slightly sick- well then, my friend, this probably isn't the record for you.
Pushing the veritable happy-o-meter to its breaking point, these are tracks for the 'what a cute couple!' montage in any indie soundtracked rom-com; the sort of soda-pop sweet-pop you might find in Glee. In other words; they are, almost without exception, unrelentingly and sickeningly upbeat- from their sugary 'boy loves girl' themed-lyrics to their inexorably fast pace.
Which of course, should not in itself be a bad thing. There's as much a place for the Katrina And The Waves' and Hall & Oates' of this world as there is for the Jeff Buckley's or Radiohead's. It's fine to be happy, happy, happy. It might even be refreshing. You see, the mood of this record is not what makes it so difficult to swallow. It's not even the fact that the band are so hopelessly in debt to the Beach Boys they have borrowed everything from them, even espousing the same 60s lyrical naiveté of there counterparts. It doesn't matter that these are songs of innocence that make 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' sound risqué.
No, what fails most here is lead singer Bennett Foster's voice. It seems that, somewhere on the way back from mugging Brian Wilson in 60s California; he must have stopped his DeLorean off at Stiff Records in the late 70s, because he appears too to have stolen Elvis Costello's voice box. If a nasally and flat voice singing Beach Boys sounds like it might work; a cursory listen to some of these tracks quickly prove it doesn't. His is a voice, for all its merits, that does not lend itself well to unflinchingly optimistic lyrics. As irritating as 'Phone''s- 'I can't wait to sleep so that I get to see you again'; or 'Candy's' 'in the corner of my eye I see her/ in the middle of the night I hear her name' might seem on paper; it's actually the delivery of them that makes these songs so irritating.
This is perhaps most in evidence on 'Summer', which should, infact, be a perfectly accomplished song. It's ambitious- swirling orchestrally in all manner of directions; and one of the record's 'slower' and more intelligent moments. Yet the whining release of 'summertime is for sweethearts…' becomes so greatly grating when sung that it renders repeated plays impossible. As if that wasn't bad enough, the vocals frequently transform into a high pitched falsetto.
It's only on 'Hey Boy' and 'Good To Be' that one can honestly say the kids are all right. Furiously catchy, the listener has little time to care for the lyrics; and on the former the use of a female choir, if clichéd, actually adds a new dimension to their surf pop pastiches. Indeed, it's hard to argue that 'Hey Boy' would not have been a number one in 1962.
But the rest of the record isn't so much for people that are high on life as for those positively close to OD-ing on it. And unless you fall into that category, however happy you count yourself, you're probably still not happy enough to endure the duration of 'Memphis'- Magic Kid's debut homage to all things bright and beautiful- without finding it frankly nauseating.