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Echoboy - Giraffe

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Artist: Echoboy

Album: Giraffe

Label: Mute

Review date: May. 6, 2003

Richard Warren Sticks His Neck Out

It's become almost de rigueur to start an Echoboy review by mentioning that in 1999 Noel Gallagher asked ex-Hybrids frontman Richard Warren (a.k.a. Echoboy) to join Oasis. While this might have done wonders for Oasis' sound, it would have made as much sense as Robbie Williams joining Kraftwerk. Wisely, Warren declined the offer and, instead of trekking all over the world playing arenas, opted to stay in his bedroom and pursue his eclectic hybrid of organic rock and electronica.

Warren's three previous albums – the limited-edition Echoboy (1999), Volume One (2000), and Volume Two (2000) – have combined accessible and more experimental material. For every catchy single like "Flashlegs," "Kit and Holly," or "Telstar Recovery," there was a more challenging composition like "Daylight," "Constantinople," or "Schram and Sheddle 262."

On first listen, Giraffe suggests that Warren has eschewed experimentation altogether, made himself over as the British version of Moby, and gone straight for the more conventional pop jugular. Its pastiche of new wave and euro dance-pop is guaranteed to get you on your feet; conventional song-structures abound; vocals grace each track; and several numbers are so catchy that they instantly work their way into your subconscious.

Still, it's not as one-dimensional as it might seem and Warren hasn't completely curbed his experimental urges. Rather than keep the two apart on different tracks, he seamlessly integrates edgier sonic elements into more immediately accessible numbers. Consequently, Giraffe proves to be a rare beast, an endangered species in fact: an intelligent pop album.

Giraffe is a textbook exercise in musical postmodernism inasmuch as it's assembled from a recycling and juxtaposition of familiar sounds. However, it has the edge on many of its contemporaries because of its multidimensionality. A band like Interpol, for instance, relies on a similar recycling but its pastiche is centered largely on the work of two bands – Joy Division and the Chameleons – and rarely moves beyond an homage, albeit a quite brilliant one.

On Giraffe, Warren's pastiche is more sophisticated. He not only draws on a wider range of sources but he distills, cuts, and pastes them in such a way as to produce engaging sonic configurations.

With its relentless thumping beat and its prominent high bassline, the driving "Automatic Eyes" has the feel of vintage New Order dusted off with a sparkling electronic sheen. Similarly upbeat (at least musically) is "Don't Destroy Me," its dark propulsive groove and spoken vocals recalling Underworld, tempered with some austere Kraftwerk-style synth. (It even incorporates a brief passage of whistling, and you can never go wrong with that.)

Echoboy's harder edge declares itself most assertively on "Wasted Spaces," an industrial dance epic that gives Trent Reznor a run for his money with its abrasive, distorted guitars, stomping beats, and angst-ridden vocals.

Elsewhere, Warren takes a more understated approach, conjuring up darker moods with more varied atmospheric coloring, rather than subjecting the listener to a full-on sonic attack. On the Beta Band-esque "Summer Rhythm," doleful guitar and liquid Fender Rhodes create a downbeat ambience, while the brooding "Fun in You" oozes noir urban malaise (although the incongruous pastoral sound of what seem to sheep bleating might raise problems with that characterization).

The true highpoints come in the form of those tracks that venture furthest into mainstream territory. Sounding like Bobby Gillespie backed by New Order, "Lately Lonely" is a slice of immensely addictive, pumping dancepop, complete with chiming bells. It makes even me, someone who loathes dancing, want to strut his stuff. The same is true of "Good on TV," a noisy new wave revival that puts OMD and the Pet Shop Boys through the wringer as Warren, pondering the possibility of "making it," ironically complains, "It's never gonna happen to me / because I don't look good on TV."

Although Giraffe does indeed raise comparisons with some of Moby's more recent work, that shouldn't deter fans of Echoboy. This album will doubtlessly appeal to a broader audience than previous outings, but that's not to say it lacks the inventive, leftfield sensibility that has permeated Warren's other records. And as for Warren not looking good on TV, well, that never stopped Moby, so there's still hope for commercial success.

By Wilson Neate

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