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  Bob's Yer Uncle Review

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Bob's Yer Uncle - Innocence and ExperienceBob's Yer Uncle
Innocence and Experience

By Darryl Cater

 

"Bob's yer Uncle" is an expression meaning, essentially, "lickety split." As in, "Quick as you can say Bob's yer uncle'"--a favorite expression of Dick Van Dyke's cockney chimney sweep in "Mary Poppins." Perhaps lead vocalist and lyricist Adrian Matthews knows the expression firsthand from his childhood in Liverpool. In any case, it is a great name for a quirky rock band and if this band
ever realizes its members aren't complementing one another particularly well and decide to break up, one or two of them needs to be sure they keep the name alive.

Bob's Yer Uncle aspire to the tradition of Smart Pop bands like XTC, REM, the Beautiful South and Squeeze. Matthews seems to have slaved to produce words as witty and intelligent as those kings of clever, and he does in fact come up with some striking images and sparkling wordplay.

Definitely worth reading. But one can sort of taste his sweat--he labors to conform his wordy thoughts to melodies, labors to achieve profundity, labors to avoid cliches while compromising frequently on awkward rhymes ("leads into another world...Into darkness you'll be hurled"). Meanwhile, his able band is capable of some terrific light pop polish, and while the arrangements are rarely especially inventive there are impressive layers--atop sleek pop bouncy guitars lie strings, organ, jazzy piano).

The odd combination of bouncy pop production, smart pop wordiness and gushingly serious earnestness help make a unique sound from familiar elements. But that overearnestness also gets pretty grating, particularly because of the laborious effort to match melody to wordy deep thoughts. It's hard not to compare the stuff to XTC's experimental art poetic pop, in part because a band press release invites the comparison, and in part because Matthews' strident vocals frequently recall the bouncy bellows of XTC frontman Andy Partridge. But Partridge is one of the cleverest of the world's most clever lyricsts; a master of lightly handling the profound with endlessly entertaining mordant wit and catchy melody. Unfortunately, the comparison only points to Bob's failure to match its unmelodic overearnestness with its bouncy pop approach.

But it is perhaps unfair to hold Bob's Yer Uncle to the standard of a band as brilliant as XTC. There are some real successes here, some genuine originality. And while Matthews misses some notes and sometimes comes on too strong, he's impressively adept at many of the album's most demanding moments (like his acrobatic bounce to the sky-high pitch of the memorable chorus in "Life's Too
Short"--"It shouldn't be like this!" he enchantingly yelps over perfect drum fill by Mark "Jaxon" Treitman). There are moments when the grinding seriousness give way to welcome frivolity (Matthews occasionally rolls his R's like Suggs--the cockney frontman from Madness--and gets playful on welcome lighthearted lines like those in "Bittersweet," which smartly jabs at the desensitizing power of pornography).

But there remains some odd, off-putting tension between Matthews' words and the band's music. And that makes me wonder whether there might be some basic incompatibility in the artistic sensibilities of some of the band members.

I might be wrong, though. The concoction they've stirred together is admirable for its originality if not for its coherence. Maybe with a heightened dose of melody and a diminished dose of drama, the band will have serious staying power. They've already made it through five years together in an industry where most groups break up faster than you can say "bob's yer uncle."



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