The Noughties has seen the pop industry transform into an incredibly complex machine. Once it used to be a case of smoke and mirrors, glitz and glamour, pearly whites and voluptuous tits, poured into three-and-a-half minute songs that would distil purity and emancipate us from daily life. It was vacuous, escapist, harmless, inoffensive, even. We had idols, divas, personalities and individuals; now we have idiots, sob stories, parodies, decadence and the all-consuming The X Factor. Where pop is now ‘X’, it has only become quantifiable and marketable through the value of competition. Pop music BC (Before Cowell) was something that was innocent, orchestrated and tangible only through its sheer gossamer of relative emotions and sugar-coated melodies; now it is encapsulated by sympathy, sex and saleability with talent becoming secondary to the spectacle of deceit. Pop’s purity and humility has not been lost, it’s just that our understanding of it has been displaced through corporate accountability and soulless enterprise.
But there are saviours, and 27-year-old New Zealander James Milne, better know under his stage name of Lawrence Arabia, is one of them. His second record, Chant Darling, is an enthused pastiche of classic British pop, swirling with innocent Beatlemania melodies and wistful Kinks harmonies that are anachronistic in spirit, but wholeheartedly original in sentiment and creativity.
From the trickling piano-led opener of ‘Look Like a Fool’, Milne’s Lennon-esque lilt undulates over surreptitiously brooding strings and instrumental backing. The feeling is almost nostalgic and forlorn, not only for the plaintive and witty lyrical content of love lost, but also for the craftsmanship that exudes as a preservation of the pop of yore.
As Chant Darling unfurls, Milne’s reinstates pop with its traditional veneer of glee, effervescence and simplicity to produce something that is quite simply appealing to the masses. From the coruscating disco hooks of ‘Apple Pie Bed’ and ‘Fine Old Friends’ to the cheeky horns and orchestrations that illuminate the witticisms of ‘Auckland CBD’ and ‘Beautiful Young Crew’, Milne may have concocted one of most assiduous pop albums for 2010 – let’s just hope that it is the year that pop is consumed with prevailing talent, and not one of contrived business acumen.