Scotland again. I know I’ve wondered about this before, but really . . . wtf is going on in Scotland? Glasvegas is a four piece (James Allan, singer/songwrite; Rab Allan, guitars; Paul Donoghue, bass; Caroline McKay, drums) out of Scotland. They were first brought to widespread attention by music impressario and fellow Scot Allan McGee who also introduced the world to Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. The tenuous Oasis connection and the knowledge that Glasvegas has been ecstatically proclaimed as The Next Big Thing by some of the more hysterical elements of the UK music press might lead some US listeners to ignore the band. This would be a big mistake.
The first thing you notice about Glasvegas is the reverb which is laid on so thick it turns the air in the room into soup when the CD is playing. Heavy reverb can be used to mask inadequacies in the musicians playing the music. Whether this is the case with Glasvegas awaits an opportunity to hear the band in the clear. The second thing you notice is that the band, its producers and its engineers are deeply infatuated with both Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound production technique and the style of music he promoted with groups like the Crystals. This is the likely source of the heavy-handed reverb as Spector employed the same approach. The third thing you notice is how extraordinarily good much of this music is.
Glasvegas are a startingly ambitious band. Many of their songs are anthemic and sung with deeply felt conviction. “Daddy’s Gone”, ranked at #2 in NME’s list of best tracks of 2007, is a cry of pain from a boy whose father abandoned his family. In the hands of a sensitive singer/songwriter this would come out as the kind treacly pap that makes the muscle and meat crowd laugh. Allan makes it an arresting recognition of an opportunity that once lost is lost forever. “Stabbed” is a spoken word piece about a thug on the losing end of a gang fight set to Beethoven’s “Moonlight” piano sonata. It’s chilling.
“Flowers and Football Tops” is one of the stronger tracks on the album. It’s sung from the point of view of a father who learns that his son is dead from the police who come to his house to give notice. It channels Spector and the Crystals until it ends with a massively reverbed wall of guitar chords that accompanies James Allan singing the chorus of “You are my sunshine”. After the final line – “How can they take my sunshine away” – Rab Allan strums a fast chord accompanied by feedback, the ever-present reverb and, buried very deep in mix, roaring cries of pain and loss. It’s searing and utterly convincing. Bands with dreams of being more than run-of-the-mill rock stars might try something this ambitious on their their third or fourth album well after they have established themselves and built an audience. Glasvegas brings it on as the first track on their debut album.
Glasvegas is one of the most striking debut albums I’ve heard in a while. The band deals with emotional material without being sappy. They’re big, they’re confident and they play with conviction. Glasvegas sounds like an album where the band thought they had one chance and decided to lay it all on the line and go for broke. They won. So did we.