Alfie - A Word In Your Ear

Some bands have everything and throw it all away. Alfie are one of those bands. After witnessing an early incarnation of Alfie back in the day, when the phrase Nu-Acoustica was in its infancy and didn't hold the stigma that it does now, there was an innocent beauty and rebellion against the American brand of nu-metal. It was a sense of kicking against what Coca Cola and Pepsi thought was trendy and saying were going to fuck up the mainstream with an acoustic guitar and vocals but still appear more relevant than some troubled folk singer in a backstreet pub playing for two and six pence. Signs that all was not well were evident as soon as the mini-album (essentially a collection of early EPs) was released to almost universal critical acclaim. Although tellingly very few of the London-centric media types had actually seen them pre transformation from simplistic northern songwriters to their EP releases which lacked direction and a desire to be taken as art school wanderers rather than the northern scallies they actually are.

"A Word In Your Ear" is much improved from the debut, but still only goes to show just what potential they would have if they simply stripped things back to the basics. Much has been made of the fact that they were never really happy on the Twisted Nerve label and I can only hope that for once the bigger budget they'll receive in Parlaphone can be used wisely to push it out further. It may be the budget that perhaps has made "A Word...." an distinctly average album rather than being a great album which it could have been with a little additional help on the production side of things. Take "Summer Lanes", a track which was debuted over a year ago on the NME tour and the only song where singer Lee Gorton put down his pack of cigs and gave us that Mancunian shuffle, a track which really has summer smash written all over it if it wasn't for the fact that its sound as its recorded in a garage in Levenshulme. Another live favourite and album highlight "Cloudy Lemonade" which just can't decide whether it wants to be Beck, the Bluetones or go on for a full on laid back hip-hop track.

Elsewhere its less cohesive and meanders from mountain high to valley low with neither a map or compass between. "Bends For 72 Miles" starts of with a Led Zeppelin style bass line before losing the plot completely on what at the best can be describe as the street poet ramblings of Jimmy Corkhill. "Not Half" starts promising with an almost spanish flamenco feel before sounding worrying like open mike at the comedy store. Its almost as if the band operate a policy of lets chuck everything in and see if its sticks, without actually taking the care to evaluate, edit and re-edit again.

At times the only constant is Gorton's vocals which lack the hypnotic musical backdrop which heroes Ian Brown and Tim Burgess have had throughout the years. What really could have been a great album in "A Word In Your Ear" has been reduced to nothing more than a collection of half baked ideas through a lack of imagination and direction as much as a lack of budget. The only hope for Alfie is that their new deal specifies that they must head into the studio with a producer than can take their sound and shape it into a more commercial prospect.

Alex McCann

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