Lawrence Arabia - The Sparrow
For the past five or six years Lawrence Arabia has built a reputation as quietly compelling; less striking than friend, collaborator and all round oddball Connan Mockasin, but producing music that is at times equally idiosyncratic, at others blessed with catchier pop melodies and always infused with a dry wit and neat turn of phrase. The Sparrow is the third album released by James Milne under this guise and sees him hone his self confessed unique style more than ever.
Moving on from the saccharine falsetto tones of the hugely memorable 'Apple Pie Bed' and the student sing-a-long of 'I've Smoked Too Much', The Sparrow adopts more of an outsider's perspective, presenting nine pieces of observational folk-pop, commenting on the world around with the sort of detachment that only sets in alongside the dreaded turning thirty-or so I've heard. More aloof than usual, the album has a refined rather than mature sound, full of drum brushes and quivering string sections. With this Milne favours the stripped back and measured approach, tipping his hat to those "early seventies records where there was so much space in the arrangements and you can really luxuriate in the sounds of individual instruments." Recorded live with help from Mockasin, and pristinely mixed with horn and string over dubs, the musicianship is at its peak.
It does lack some of the exuberance of his previous work, but still maintains plenty of room for his characteristically curious set pieces, like 'The Bisexual' which tells of an unexpected seduction and the argument that "everyone is a little bit-you know." A dark sense of humour pervades, even in the malaise of 'Bicycle Riding' which while sounding sorrowful could just as easily soundtrack a slapstick Chaplin skit (appropriate given his fondness for the moustache) or a Parisian mime artist's routine-there is always a touch of absurdity and we are invited to revel in his misfortune. This French influence stretches further too given Milne's infatuation with Gainsbourg, whose furtive presence is most keenly felt on 'Legends', a sort of Bonnie and Clyde epilogue.
There is much navel-gazing and reflection here, as with opener 'Travelling Shoes' and its sequel 'The 03', which tell Milne's story of outgrowing his hometown of Christchurch and leaving to follow his music career before having to confront the possibility of unfulfilled ambitions, the words "you'll never make it out there, you're useless without me" ringing in his head before he is forced to return home. Fortunately the returning home part never happened and instead he proceeded to release a very assured, although a little distant, third album.
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