What exactly is it that creates a buzz in this day and age? While lesser bands like Fleet Foxes get all the recent hype and acclaim in the U.S. press, it's Glasvegas that's released the best debut album of the last 12 months, as far as this writer is concerned. The Scottish band thinks big — the first thing the listener may notice is the arena rock-ishness of its sound. It's almost reminiscent of U2 in approach (and Glasvegas is one of the bands slated to open for Bono & crew on U2's upcoming stadium tour).
But that's where the similarities end because Glasvegas bandleader (and former pro-soccer player) James Allan has also obviously absorbed the distorto-pop influences of such fellow Scottish forbearers as the Jesus & Mary Chain and Teenage Fanclub (and maybe even a smidgen of Ireland's My Bloody Valentine), which, by association, also means Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, the Brill Building writers, and the best of late '50s, early '60s rock 'n' roll. In other words, the album is overflowing with glorious pop hooks, effervescent guitar lines, and melody, melody, melody!
Kickoff track, "Flowers and Football Tops" alone, nicks freely from Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and Arthur Alexander's (or the Beatles') "Anna," before concluding with a direct quote from the classic country music standard, "You Are My Sunshine."
But here's the thing: That first song is about the real-life, racially motivated murder of a teen on the mean streets of Glasgow. Throughout the album, Allan's lyrics address depressing situations and tales of the downtrodden, which he then pairs with beautiful, uplifting and, in the end, transcendent music. "Go Square Go" is about the school bully most of us dealt with at one time or another, while, perhaps most poignantly, "Daddy's Gone" addresses the death of Allan's father when Allan was still a toddler, portraying the terrible loss he's felt ever since ("All I wanted was a kick-about in the park/For you to race me home when it was nearly getting dark"). The lyricist is never shy about dropping the F-bomb when he's angry, either, which accounts for the "parental guidance" sticker on the album's cover.
Not sure I get all the Oasis comparisons for this band in the UK press, beyond both groups borrowing freely — albeit quite differently — from great rock elements of the past. Allan does, in fact, quote from the Gallagher brothers ("What's the story, morning glory?" — which, in turn, was nicked from the Broadway musical and movie, Bye Bye, Birdie) on "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry" (note the Hank Williams allusion in that title). I will agree, however, that Glasvegas is surely one of the most impressive debut albums I've heard since Oasis' Definitely Maybe.
There's only one mediocre tune — the minimalistic, Suicide-influenced "Ice Cream Van" — out of 12 here, which is a pretty damn good and unusual ratio these days. Last year, the Internets transformed Vampire Weekend into "buzz" rock superstars ... but, for my money, that band was and is nowhere near the musical stratosphere these guys reach. Definitely a candidate for rock album of 2009.
Glasvegas plays Saturday, April 4, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With Von Iva.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.