The Beatific Visions
hen Brighton supergroup Brakes formed in 2002, guitarist and drummer Tom and Alex White had just been nominated for a Mercury with their debut album as The Electric Soft Parade, bassist Marc Beatty had his own band and studio, and singer Eamon Hamilton was on his way to foliage-wielding success as a keyboardist with British Sea Power.
As such, their debut album, recorded in a matter of days, sounded like a bunch of dudes getting together and blowing off steam. Together with various other Brighton musicians, including an earlier incarnation of The Pipettes, they created an anarchic half-hour that veered from lo-fi country to lo-fi punk with Hamilton ranting madly on songs that sometimes didn’t even make it to the ten-second mark. Give Blood made very little sense at times, but its unpredictability was a large part of its allure. And, crazy as it may sound, it was a (moderate) success. Enough of a success for Hamilton to quit British Sea Power and, with the others’ bands flailing commercially, to become the main concern for the rest of the band as well. So. What happens when your joke side project becomes your day job?
The Beatific Visions’ first one-two suggests the answer is to recreate your debut with a bigger budget. Musically “Hold Me in the River” all but remakes Give Blood’s “Ring a Ding Ding,” with a tad more intricacy and a tad less fuzz to its stop-start guitars. But while Hamilton delivers gleeful lyrical absurdity in the same distinctive, frenzied whine as before, it’s now mixed in with more sophisticated rage at the government’s authoritarian policies. “Margarita”’s jerky riffs and complaints that even the devil has been “homogenized, designed, pre-trialed, and demographically assured” similarly feels like a tighter take on their debut.
That bigger budget allowed the group to lay down tracks in Nashville—and, as befitting an album recorded there, Brakes’ country takes are far more convincing than before. While Give Blood’s weedy attempts needed propping up with irony, “If I Should Die Tonight”’s barroom piano is typical of a fruitful new attention to detail. “Mobile Communication” is better still, its gorgeous sighs of pedal steel guitar backing a clever lament about the titular technology.
The downside of the Brakes development is the loss of the raw power that accompanied some of their more demented moments. Only the jagged, hilarious rant of live favorite “Porcupine Or Pineapple?” has the thrilling ire of a “Heard About Your Band” or “Cheney,” and with it clocking in at over a minute it still isn’t quite as concentrated. That being said, “Spring Chicken” and “Cease and Desist” are almost as much fun and do have more staying power. And we’re still talking about songs with lines like “God came down and said I’m FUCKING bored.”
Perhaps the bigger disappointment with The Beatific Visions is that five minutes of its thirty is turned over to the ineffectively bare closer “No Return.” It confounds by actually sounding like an inferior British Sea Power—and serves as an unhappy reminder that Brakes haven’t completely come into their own yet.
Reviewed by: Iain Forrester
Reviewed on: 2006-11-06