Describing himself as pop-ska-indie, Alex Butler enters the music business with a 4 track EP and the lead song Turn. Containing the imaginative lyric in the chorus, that goes something like: “Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn ‘til you see her” repeated not once or twice, but six times; six numbing times in a row… it is almost as irritating as that Crazy Frog song that I had only just forgotten about until now. You soon realise that although Mr Butler may adopt Morrissey’s quiff and NHS glasses, he has none of the quick wit or the clever turn of phrase that filled Mozza’s entire back catalogue. The song does contain enough sharp guitar hooks and large vocal bridges to pull in a large proportion of the listening audience, but the chorus is so sickeningly repetitive that instead of turning you on, you just want to turn it off. Shame, because the verses are not too bad.
The other three tracks are in a similar vein give or take a tempo change: pop music by numbers, but neither original enough to be of interest to the indie crowd, or good enough to muscle its way into the tougher pop market. The thing is, its main downfall is that the production and arrangements sound desperate, as if the only real concern is being radio friendly; as such it ends up being too clinical and fake. Strange because Alex’s demos on Bandcamp and live videos on Youtube have a much more human feel to them, but perhaps these were ditched by the head of marketing when it came to making the album proper… a real shame.
Regardless of the production and arrangement problems, the glaring contentious issue is Alex’s voice. This is something bound to excite and annoy listeners in equal measure. Clearly a deliberate decision was made to phrase every word as if he is simultaneously chewing on a pickled onion. It really is infuriating when singers feel the need to stand out by adopting some strange idiosyncratic way of pronouncing the lyrics. He is a Geordie by all accounts, but the accent is far from being the over-riding sound he makes, which is a shame; instead the vocal is a strange mix of tones that ends up just sounding contrived. It brings to mind the likes of Nizlopi and Maverick Sabre, whose voices somehow get in the way, because at the back of your mind while the song is playing you can’t help thinking “Why is he singing like that?” I guess though vocal styles are very subjective, and it is true that he sings like no one else, which is admirable in some way.
Checking out Alex’s website you can see immediately that he is going for that cool retro 60’s chic, with the Italian suit, the pop art graphics, the Buddy Holly glasses and the aging Fender Strat, and it is a powerful display of intent, however, instead of looking classy and original, just looks like the tame Mod revival Britain fleetingly had in 1985, with the likes of The Gents and Makin’ Time. Fond memories but ultimately forgettable. Musically, you can hear a lot of Jam, a bit of Arctic Monkeys and a small sprinkle of early Elvis Costello, but it only ever feels like a pretender to the throne, not the genuine article.
Alex is only very young though, and may yet have time to plough his own furrow. It is true that all new music has its roots in the past, but you can be too obvious about it and the “Turn” EP succeeds only in sounding derivative. Please next time, more inventive, more original and fewer turns, because if you keep turning, you just end up back where you started.
Review – Al Neilson