Aqualung - 'Strange and Beautiful'
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“Strange and Beautiful” it might want to be, but more apt would have been to call this album “Odd and Pretty” because there is nothing exceptional or extreme here, as the former adjectives tend to suggest. The gauge of “Strange and Beautiful” would be something like from zero to Bright Eyes and Aqualung’s American debut coasts in at a pleasant and passable five. He relishes melancholy in a cloud of breathy vocals and lush piano-driven instrumentation which is nice, but more fitting, this album has a certain charm to it not unlike a film appearance from Marissa Tomei. Like the endearingly harmless hero of a small and romantic indie vehicle, Aqualung makes an unexpected but welcomed appearance after quietly inserting himself in your ear and remaining tucked there.
Aqualung is Matt Hales, born in the south of England and raised upstairs from his parents’ indie record shop. You’d think hanging out in a dusty attic above English Jack Blacks and Todd Louisos would make for a more eclectic or original sound. But as a musician friend once told me, it doesn’t take knowing the lexicon to make a great musician. Nor is a great musician made from knowing the lexicon, as the case may be.
The album veers from the kind of ambient alternative rock favored by guys who wear track jackets and Asic Tigers and own turntables (read: pleasant and inoffensive in “Falling Out Of Love”) to quiet and really lovely pop songs (“If I Fall” and “Easier To Lie”) to (well done) imitations of Chris Martin (“Left Behind”). Apparently Chris Martin has a little more angsty build-up or something because there is a certain lack of passion here with Hales. Quiet and pretty is Hales’ game, but quiet and intense, he is not. (Hey, no one’s blaming you, though. You’d have a gi-normous back catalogue of piano-pounding hits, too, if you had to deal with that much iciness.)
Also quite nice: the title track. It’s clearly the title track for a reason and it was a good move taking it off his debut UK release and putting it on this record. A meandering and creepy drawl of pianos and quiet percussion lures you toward Hales’ voice which when you pay attention to it is saying something a little edgier. “You turn every head but you don’t see me/ I’ll put a spell on you and when I wake you…You’ll realize that you love me.” (It’s still well within the range of socially-accepted edginess, though. Label interest started after Hales used the song to help hock bulbous cars for Volkswagon for Christ’s sake). And this is really where the album belongs: a pleasant and (inherit in that word) safe bubble where beige is suddenly really pleasing because it keeps company with monochrome.