A new album from Shack is a rare treat, made harder to obtain
by the fact that only one of their albums (1999's HMS Fable)
was released in the U.S. For lovers of fine British pop with a strong
60's influence and a psychedelic tinge, however, this group is unparalleled
- well worth tracking down if you're intrigued.
Michael and John Head still write all the songs and
do the lead singing and guitars, but Shack is really feeling like
a band on this album, with drummer Iain Templeton and bassist
Pete Wilkinson contributing to the wonderfully organic feel
of the music and providing some killer backup harmonies - a key part
of the Shack sound.
Despite the reference to Miles Davis and Gil Evans
in the title, there's not a lot of jazz here. Instead, the band builds
on the riches of their four previous albums to make a superb set of
songs that highlight their influences (you can hear The Byrds,
Buffalo Springfield and especially Love - in fact the
Head brothers backed up Arthur Lee on a UK tour a few years
"Tie Me Down" kicks off the album on a gentle note, a waltz-timed
tune with soaring chorus that packs quite a surprise when you realize
that the lyrics are a paean to the joys of bondage sex! Mick Head
pulls off a really skilful trick here by making the subject sound
like a natural progression in a strong relationship, without a hint
of perversion or sleaze. Try it, kids, you won't go blind! Likewise,
"Cup Of Tea" chugs along nicely, the oh-so-British subject
matter enhanced by the thickest Scouse accents you're likely to hear
on any record, but there's a strong hint that there is something more
hallucinogenic than milk in there.
Some of the highlights of any Shack album come when the Head brothers
let go with a guitar rave-up, and there are two great examples here.
John Head's chiming "Butterfly" comes first, with a nagging
rhythm line driving a wonderfully woozy, psychedelic song that makes
you feel as if you're on a mind-altering substance even when you've
had nothing stronger than the aforementioned cup o' char. Most Shack
reviews tout the genius of Mick Head (and they're not wrong), but
his brother has contributed his fair share of gems over the years
too, and this is one of the very best. You have to pay a bit of attention
to tell when John's singing, but his voice is that little bit sweeter
and less gruff.
Mick comes roaring back with the storming "Black And White".
It kicks off with no warning right after the quiet ballad "Shelley
Brown" to maximize the impact, and features no less than four
fantastic, twisted, string-bending guitar breaks that would fit right
in on a Buffalo Springfield or "Eight Miles High"-era Byrds
album. If Shack ever make it back to these shores, this will no doubt
be incredible live - in fact I'm sorely tempted to head over to England
to catch them, this song is that good.
Shack is a habit well worth acquiring. Try picking up HMS Fable
cheap or on one of the online services, and go from there - it might
take you a few listens to reveal all of the band's charms, but once
you're hooked it will be a lifetime obsession.
FOOTNOTE - the UK release of this record is courtesy of Noel Gallagher's
Sour Mash Records. I still think the Oasis supremo has it in
him to make music as good as this - let's hope their next album proves
1. Tie Me Down
3. Cup of Tea
4. Shelley Brown
5. Black and White
6. New Day
7. Miles Away
8. Finn, Sophie, Bobby and Lance
10. Funny Things
11. Find a Place
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