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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Style Council, "Café Bleu"

The Style Council
"Café Bleu"
Polydor (1984)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

There are many an alternative artist who can curry critical favor by incorporating as many genres as possible into their music. The difference between these groups and British alt-pop, cult favorites The Style Council is that the other bands transition smoothly, and can even blend the differing genres into one polished product. Council struggles to do this on its biggest album, "Café Bleu" (or "My Ever Changing Moods," as it was titled in the United States).

It's obvious right from the get-go that jazz is going to be a major influence on the album. In fact, five whole tracks are dedicated to jazz instrumentals, all hovering around bop and post-bop. The instrumentals tend to show heavy favor to the second-in-charge of Style Council, pianist Mick Talbot. Although guitarist Paul Weller gets a majority of the songwriting credits, Talbot has three cowriter credits among the instrumentals, which he takes advantage of. "Mick's Blessings" is almost solely Talbot, and the piano is especially strong on "Me Ship Came In!", a swinging bop number.

There is a horn section and other backing instrumentalists behind the duo on the album cover, but Weller's obvious predilection for jazz guitar is the most notable aspect of this pop album. His solos on "My Ever Changing Moods" evoke Stevie Ray Vaughn (not a jazz guitarist, but a guitarist with a very jazzy style) and the strummed chords of "The Whole Point of No Return" also have a jazz feel thanks to the tone of Weller's Rickenbacker 330, a popular instrument for the genre.

Weller, a leader of the Mod revival in England during the '70s, naturally enjoys classic R&B and soul as did his Mod predecessors. Therefore it's no surprise when tracks like "Strength of Your Nature" emulate Motown. But takes a turn for the absurd during "A Gospel," a hip-hop track that is awkwardly lumped in the middle of the album. The song isn't nearly as bad as it could've been, but it certainly isn't good and its randomness makes it sound like a mockery of the genre, even if the opposite is true.

"A Gospel" is one of three songs that pack not-so-subtle political messages (along with "No Return" and "Dropping Bombs on The White House," which ironically is instrumental, with no real meaning or explanation). The first two are well thought out attacks on societal structure, but stick out like sore thumbs against the innocence of their surrounding tracks.

This problem is a theme for the album. There is nothing wrong with the bop tracks, the pop tracks, and nothing too misplaced about the hip-hop track either. The problem is that the songs don't segue at all. As opposed to a gentle curve between styles, the listener must deal with clumsy 90-degree turns. Every song stands fine by itself, but makes for a messy album.

The record, and group, suffer from lack of a strong identity. There are plenty of great groups that gracefully float between styles. The Style Council is not one of them.

INTERESTING FACT: Although Pete Townshend gets credit for being the leader of the world's biggest Mod band, Weller is affectionately known as "The Modfather" for his revitalizing of the movement.

My Ever Changing Moods by The Style Council on Grooveshark

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