The Primary 5
aul Quinn is known, if he’s known at all, for being the drummer on Teenage Fanclub’s best two albums (Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain). That he should, after an amiable parting from the Fannies, decide after a few years to try his own hand at writing melodies isn’t terribly surprising, but given that the Primary 5 is a duo with Quinn on vocals, drums and keyboards and Ryan Currie on guitars and keyboards, it’s odd that North Pole winds up sounding so lovingly conventional.
The idea of the singing drummer is an intriguing one, but usually any difference is imperceptible on disc, and this is no exception. The garage-y clatter of “Comin’ Home” and “Mailman” come to closest to linking Quinn’s Roger McGuinn-esque voice and his steady drumming, but most of the Primary 5’s debut is lower-energy guitar pop of an extremely classicist strain. The lovely “I’ll Lay You Down” is the closest early-Byrds copy I’ve heard in years, while the beginning of “Easy Chair” sounds close to Gerard Love’s “Mount Everest” off of Songs From Northern Britain. Most of the record exists somewhere between those two poles of reference.
A solo album from the ex-drummer of a band that sounds like the band he’s left is nearing self-parody, but it also makes sense. There’s nothing here to make Love, McGinley and Blake fear for their careers, but for thirty minutes the Primary 5 make a convincing case that there’s plenty of room for these sort of warm, vaguely rootsy charmers outside the works of the masters.
“Everybody Knows It Hurts” is the record’s finest moment and probably its most characteristic; not nearly as sad-sack as the title makes it sound, it’s the kind of tough-love, oddly optimistic song that, coupled with a forceful drum clomp and jangled, distorted guitars go well with either driving down the highway or watching a thunderstorm from your window. The songs here are, for lack of a better word, so nice that they’re unlikely to cause obsessive listening, but each time you do dip into North Pole there’s going to be a track or two that winds up being a pleasant surprise when you hear it again.
The only real problem with it, in fact, is as predictable as the record’s sound: this is a rather incredible EP with a few lesser tracks added. The problem isn’t nearly as severe here as elsewhere, due mostly to the brevity of the album, but if North Pole ended after “Easy Chair,” six tracks in, it would be much more satisfying. It’s not that the other four songs are awful, but the really good stuff has already gone before and “Easy Chair” feels, as soon as it starts, like a natural ending. If it had been sequenced later in the disk maybe what comes after it wouldn’t feel so anticlimactic, but it does keep the experience from being seamless.
It’s a pity such a small thing would stick out so much every time I pop in North Pole, because anyone who likes this kind of relaxed West Coast pop (because even if this was made in Scotland, it feels a little like California) owes Paul Quinn and the Primary 5 a listen or two. It speaks well for future efforts that all the basic ingredients are here, but for now the band is only for the already-committed.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-08-15