When they're at their best, ESP don't sound like anyone else around.
Jack Smith 2002-11-20
The Electric Soft Parade are still young enough for their label to make an issue of their age. For the record, Tom and Alex are 19 and 21 respectively. But as they say in football, if you're good enough, you're old enough. And after a Mercury nomination for their debut Holes In The Wall, no-one should need to make excuses for the White brothers.
Having said that, youth can be the only mitigating factor for some of the lyrics on The American Adventure. ESP have often paid tribute to the influence of Ride. But there's surely no need to adopt their 'stating-the-bleeding-obvious in a Moon/June/Balloon stylee' approach.
"Existing is easy, living is hard" from the otherwise fine closing track "Exist" is a cliche too far, with unfortunate echoes of "Why" by Annie Lennox. Such horrors would surely have seen poor Tom (the guilty party on this occasion) expelled from sixth form poetry class.
Safer then to concentrate on the music. When they're at their best, ESP don't sound like anyone else around - although there's an obvious (and admitted) resemblance to bands like the Boo Radleys, and a debt (whether they know it or not) to the place where early 70s prog rock and psychedelia collide.
They can go from pastoral whimsy to Smashing Pumpkins heaviosity in a trice - though whether they really need to hit the metal pedal so often is open to question. The charming "Lose Yr Frown"is a notable victim of this vice.
The best moments come when the brothers seem to lose themselves in their own creations - the haunting instrumental coda to "The Wrongest Thing In Town", or the sprawling title track that forms the centrepiece of the album.
There's nothing to match the dizzy pop rush of "Empty At The End", and some of the songs take a while to stick. But the gentle arpeggios, chuntering old drum machines, and occasional 10cc-esque backing vocals make for a soothing listening experience.
If nothing else, the Whites deserve respect for making The American Adventure just 36 minutes long. That was good enough for Pet Sounds, Revolver and The Queen Is Dead - and it leaves you hungry for more of ESP's often beguiling sounds, with a sense that the best is still to come.
Review courtesy of 6 Music