Birds Of Avalon
posted on 2/2008 By:
When I first popped this one in the player, my initial reaction was, "This is gonna be another one of those reviews that sports a disclaimer that, no matter how cool this may be, it's not metal," and then inevitably someone will lash out about why we bother reviewing non-metal stuff at Metal Review and then we have to write back and say, "We review what we get, and we got this," and so on... And then after a second listen, I thought, “This is gonna be one of those reviews, like the one I wrote for Taipan, where I just namecheck about two hundred bands that this reminds me of.” And I was right: it’s going to be both of those reviews, so get ready to lash about how much you love/hate classic rock.
After a great Cheap Trick-styled opener, Bazaar Bazaar settles into a groove that, while by no means is "extreme" in the least, does evoke many of the proto-metal bands of yesteryear for whom this reviewer has a big ol' soft spot. This Raleigh-based guitar-rock quintet blends power pop, garage rock, a dose of Flaming Lips modern psychedelia, and enough nods to the old-school FM dial to keep your average rocker along for the ride. "Horse Called Dust" features some Thin Lizzy-esque harmony guitar workouts; "Instant Coma" is a jazz-meets-prog intro before "Set You Free" kicks in with a stomping distorted riff and Craig Tilley's soaring vocals. (He sounds like a combination of Robin Zander and Wayne Coyne.) "Superpower" brings back the Thin Lizzy guitars and arena-sized hooks, and "Think" is an out-and-out sitar-and-harmony-vocals bit of Eastern-flavored genius that sounds like a cross between Big Star and Love. “Where’s My Blood?” is a spacey number that reminds of Pink Floyd meets the Doors’ eerier moments, before “Turn Gold” kicks in with a midtempo bluesy number a la some of Deep Purple’s softer moments. (Despite all the classic rock love, that’s one of only a few blues-based moments on the record—most of this sticks closer to power-pop and space-rock melodic structures. Birds Of Avalon is also not to be confused with your Valient Thorrs or Turbonegros, your greasy sweaty rock’n’roll revivalists. While there are elements of that aesthetic at play here, this is a far sunnier, less aggressive affair.)
The production is suitable; the musicianship is above average, although this isn’t wickedly challenging music, admittedly. (That said, the harmony guitar leads in “Superpower” could be tightened up a bit.) What really sets these Birds apart from the legions of bell-bottomed, ironic-moustache-sporting tools worshipping at the altar of Zeppelin / Purple / Cream is a mastery of simple, catchy songwriting that feels retro without being slavish. Despite that I’ve listed about seventeen bands that Bazaar Bazaar brings to mind, none of this is shameless piracy or, as near as I can tell, hipster posturing. (Surely if it were, they would look quote-unquote cooler in the promo photos…) These tunes hint at a variety of bands, and yet none is an outright clone of any of them. (Even the appropriation of the “Sympathy For The Devil” drum intro in “Superpower” is quickly overpowered by the Gorham-Robertson splendor of the lead riffing.) It’s proof of the old songwriting truth—steal from enough sources and the combination of your influences becomes your identity. That said, Bazaar Bazaar isn’t perfect—the range of stylistic detours makes it interesting, but it’s a step or two removed from an absolute knock-out because there’s still the dangerous fact that you--and anyone who has an FM radio--will still get caught in a game of “spot the influence.
I'll close the review with the opener I’d planned from the start: this one is a great piece of psychedelic guitar-rock, but it’s not particularly “metal.” The corpsepainted elite amongst us will scoff at its shameless embracing of rock cliche, and the heavier-than-thou will dismiss it as a power-pop puff piece. But to do either is a mistake, as big a mistake as it would be to approach it as anything less than a fun little rock record filtered through a druggy haze. Birds Of Avalon don’t blast or shred or grind your ass into the dirt, but they rock, plain and simple, with a big goofy grin and their fists in the air. Bazaar Bazaar is a good listen. That’s good enough for me, but one caveat. I’ve been a Cheap Trick fan since my teens, and I will readily admit to having a sweet-tooth for the occasional batch of sugary melodies. If you don’t share that sweet-tooth, if you think melody and harmony are gay lovers, then Bazaar Bazaar is not for you.
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