The London Souls – Here Come the Girls


Some bands make great records, and some bands are great live; not often are they great at both.  This is because sometimes the qualities of a raw and edgy live performance cannot be captured in a studio; many times I have listened to a dull album and been told you have to see them live for it to make any sense.  I saw Skunk Anansie play a few times before they were signed and was disappointed beyond belief when I heard the first single, which was such a diluted version of what they gave in the flesh it rendered it unlistenable, the album as well was made for radio and lost all of its life.

At other times artists do not have the drive, skill or talent to recreate on a stage the perfect takes they recorded in the confines of the safe environment of a soundbooth;,the Cardigans, Mark Knopfler and Rickie Lee Jones for example, make beautiful albums, but live, all that beauty fades and their limp performances do not inspire at all.  And then you have the likes of Bob Dylan or Counting Crows, who make great albums and then totally rearrange the songs when they play live, until at times the songs are unrecognisable.

The London Souls are tricky because they sound like two totally different bands, the live and the studio versions.  They are a two piece (Tash Neal, guitar/voice and Chris St. Hilaire, drums/voice ) but augment this in their studio arrangements, incorporating more instruments, and live they are just guitar, drums and two voices; and for me it is this live version that eclipses the studio version.

I had listened to their second album “Here Come the Girls” for a couple of weeks before seeing them supporting Catfish and the Bottlemen, and was not overly inspired with their blues/rock/rock n roll sound, as it revealed more about their influences than who they actually are themselves.  The harder songs on the album are drenched in a Lenny Kravitz retro vibe; overdriven guitars and soulful vocals, against a solid Led Zep style rhythm section.  While the laidback sections seemed only to be there to serve as a change in dynamics.  I have to admit not being overly inspired.

And then I had an epiphany.  I saw The London Souls live.  Like when I saw The Black Keys almost ten years ago, Neal and St. Hilaire show that just a two piece can fill a hall with their delightful noise.  From that point I re-listened to the album and although it captures only part of what The London Souls can achieve on stage, it does showcase their skill for composing great pop songs.  I use the word ‘showcase’ deliberately, because In some respects the album feels less like a bona fide album and more like a sampler, with the sub-text being, see how talented we are and diverse we can be — ‘we can do, blues, rock, rock n roll, folk, jazz, funk’ etc etc.  For this reason alone, I believe “Here Come the Girls” lacks the cohesion of a truly great album.

With that said, and looking at the songs individually, there is little you can fault, except the decision made by producer or artist for the sound to be immediately associated with albums made in the 60s and 70s:  you can hear Rod Stewart, The Beatles, Lep Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doobie Brothers and the retro stylings of Lenny Kravitz through the 90s, in these recordings.  Even the melodic progressions echo what has come before, and for the most part are predictable.  This gives the feeling that the album is an old friend and something you have played all your life; it has an immediacy, and is certainly listenable and full of memorable hooks.  The problem is that with roads well-trodden you become bored quite quickly and there is not that much depth in the arrangements to warrant multiple listens.  Also too often “Here Come the Girls” is like playing guess what album that sound came from first, and this is such a distraction.

The history of this album reads like a film script, when you learn that The London Souls recorded the album a couple of years ago, then Tash Neal was involved in a traffic accident, fell into a coma and then spent months recovering.  It is both a wonderful tale of survival and a missed opportunity; the PR team should have turned Neal’s misfortune into an Austin Powers story of being in a coma or maybe cryogenically frozen for fifty years and criticise all the bands that followed for ripping off a The London Souls’ sound.  As it stands, “Here Come the Girls” is too derivative, too formulaic and too unfocused to be great.

It is a great shame that The London Souls’ essence that is so powerful in a live setting, does not make the transition to record.  Maybe with a more original production, and with less backward looking arrangements, the next album can consolidate their live raw energy with a sound that is their own.  With such promise I will be waiting excitedly for what happens next.

Review: Alan Neilson

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