tremble clef

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Memphis, "My Favourite Game" (2002)/"Love Comes Quickly" (2004)

Pop Stars Who Have Awesome Day Jobs (A Short Series): Chris Dumont, who is one half of the group Memphis, is a carousel operator at Central Park. A carousel operator! At the happiest place on earth! Except when it's the setting for a climactic movie murder!

Okay, so he was only doing this part-time; and perhaps it wasn't even so much a day job as a night job; plus, he was doing this a few years ago, and for all we know may no longer be a guardian of the horsies, but, it still looks fantastic through my rose tinted glassses. It's almost disappointing that he never sampled the carousel theme music for one of his band's records.

The other member of Memphis is Torquil Campbell, who is better known as the frontman of Stars. I've watched the increasing fame and popularity of Stars with mixed feelings. Indeed, the feelings are complex enough to deserve a separate post, not that I'll ever write it, but they essentially boil down to my liking them less the more well-known they became. This is in no way due to my having the indie-hipster attitude which holds that a band is good only so long as they are unknown. Rather, I've just found Stars' success to coincide with their sound changing from something more electronic/ keyboard-based, to one more rooted in guitar rock. Nightsongs from 2001 was almost a perfect pop album, the sound of some young men twiddling knobs in their bedroom and coming up with pretty but bitter pop numbers. Heart, released two years later, of course had "Elevator Love Song" and "Life Effect," though the album as a whole I found less consistent than Nightsongs. But it was Set Yourself On Fire that more or less broke the band. And yet the album is my least favorite: it's not necessarily bad, but the preponderance of guitar pop-rock tracks on that record just made Stars sound like a million other bands (albeit a good version).

Because of my dissatisfaction with Set Yourself On Fire in 2004, I eagerly sought out Memphis's album I Dreamed We Fell Apart. I first heard the band in 2002 -- this was after Stars' Nightsongs, which I loved so much that I just had to track down Torquil's side project -- when I picked the EP A Good Day Sailing on Le Grand Magistery. All five songs on the EP turned out to be marvellous: dreamy, poignant, catchy. "My Favourite Game," for example, presents a series of melancholic haikuesque lines: "Blossom Dearie, that's my favorite name/Winter leaves brush against the window pane/All I see is the lemon tree, the one behind my house/We kissed beneath it in November rain."

Perhaps the standard set by the EP was impossibly high. The long player I Dreamed We Fell Apart in contrast lacked the magic and sparkle; many of the songs were equally dreamy but somehow more insubstantial, inconsequential. My favorite thing about the album, finally, is the title, although the band's cover of Pet Shop Boys' "Love Comes Quickly" comes a close second. It doesn't quite have the swooshing grandeur and heartbreak of the original -- what does? -- but in its quiet, hushed way (a strummy guitar replaces the sweeping synths of the original) is almost as effective.

The releases have done nothing. Memphis is not a household name. Perhaps Chris is back working at the carousel. That still sounds impossibly exciting to me, but I might feel differently if I had to spend all day oiling a horse's cast bevel gear.


  • I feel almost exactly the same way about Stars. But my problem with them has less to to with their transition -from electronic to guitar oriented- than with their change in melodic/harmonic structures. I've often felt they are trying too hard to write 'not just catchy but good'-music. It pisses me of a bit because I think part of the problem is the influence of the North-American indie scene which demands artistic 'depth' from you. Live, they are pretty impressive (Amy, in particular) in their performing skills, but their act suffers from too much 'intensity'. Bottom line, I wish they were more St. Etienne and less The Dears.

    By Blogger daavid, at 5:40 AM  

  • Yes, I think you're right (and you have now concisely written my Stars entry for me). Even if the change in musical direction wasn't prompted by wanting to be more loved by the indie scene, that certainly has been the effect, so I fear that the fourth Stars album will be even further away from my taste.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 2:06 PM  

  • Nothing matches "On Peak Hill," "Tonight" (SWOON) or "Elevator Love Song"

    Anyway, thank you for the Memphis PSB cover - LOVE IT! So pretty - I hope PSB co-opt it for their live shows. The child at the beginning is a brilliant touch.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 12:23 AM  

  • And there's also "Counting Stars On The Ceiling," and "The Very Thing" (which features an excellent use of the f-word). That debut album was really full of amazing songs.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:40 AM  

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