(5 / 5)
One of the very best albums in a decade. Fact. I have never been more certain of awarding the maximum five stars in a review, than I am here right now.
Fuck, this is good. Solar plexus-punching vocals from a man who should be a superstar with those pipes, Liam McKahey. Think Bowie, Mark Almond, Scott Walker, Lou Reed, Richard Hawley all rolled in to one, and you’re part way there. Outrageously killer vocals. Fabulous songs.
Irishman Liam and mega-talented songwriter Davey Ray Moor have reunited as CousteauX, to release this sparkling diamond of a 10-track offering, and joining them to co-write and perform on one cut, “The Innermost Light” – and on an EP track “Love Is Not On Trial” (not on the full album) – is The Libertines’ Carl Barat.
Haunting, moody, spiritual, cinematic, gorgeous. Stunningly beautiful is not too OTT, methinks. The entire record is breathtaking. It really is. If you hear it and disagree, you are wrong. Very wrong. The production values are mega on-point. Melancholy never sounded so frigging mighty. There’s a distinctive retro, vintage, 60s cool vibe, but it is in no way dated or a sound of yesteryear. This is as relevant and “on trend” as it gets; the Shoreditch bearded massive will surely be all over this.
Cousteau were a London-based band who had major international success, particularly in Italy and the U.S. from 1999 to 2005. Three albums, five years of touring worldwide, appearances on US TV’s famed “Late Late Show” and over here, on BBC TV’s “Later…. with Jools Holland”. You may remember their biggest song, the single “The Last Good Day Of The Year”, from the debut album. The track has been used for adverts, including Nissan in the USA and Borsci in Italy. For soundtracks of films such as “Happily Ever After” and “South Kensington” with Rupert Everett, TV documentaries and programmes around the world. Pus loads of national radio airplay in UK and USA.
Their 1999 debut album sold out when an indie label pressed up 3,000 copies and it got them rave reviews. The record included demos produced for various major labels. They signed to Island supremo Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures and re-recorded most of that debut album. Only two tracks from the original release remained. The new version was ‘record of the week’ in the Guardian newspaper in the UK and sold close to a quarter of a million copies, globally. It scored gold status in sales.
The band toured constantly, supporting the likes of The Dandy Warhols, David Gray, and Goldfrapp, and their own headline gigs, building up a loyal fan base. They dropped their second album “Sirena” in 2002, the US version included a DVD with videos and unreleased live songs. The record sold very well and they were acclaimed by the prestigious Rolling Stone magazine, and given a two-page colour spread in The New York times. They released their third and final album “Nova Scotia” in 2005.
Songwriter/producer Davey Ray was born in Beirut, and lived in Australia, forming Coustea which he named after the famed undersea explorer Jacques. Davey was a member of the band The Church in his younger days. Previous Cousteau members are Robin Brown (guitars), Joe Peet (bass guitar, violin, double bass), Dan Church (drums on the 1999 Global Warming Ltd album) and Craig Vear (drums and percussion).
Davey left to pursue production jobs in Europe, and TV soundtracks. Singer Liam McKahey became the band’s songwriter, and the band released their 2005 album Nova Scotia, produced by U2’s engineer Ger McDonnel. Lead singer Liam McKahey moved to Australia, and he released a solo album in 2009 as ‘Liam McKahey and the Bodies’, and a second album in 2014.
After more than 10 years apart, last year, (2016) Liam McKahey and Davey Ray Moor reunited, adding an X (it’s a silent X by the way) to Cousteau, to form CousteauX, selling out The Blue Note in Milan in May 2016.
The new record, features Liam McKahey, vocals, percussion. Davey Ray Moor, songwriter, multiple instruments. The album throbs and pulses with passion; a burning desire to resolve unfinished business from the pair, who I’d guess pored over every last second of these tracks before they released them into the wild, for all to hear.It’s faultless.
“Memory Is A Weapon”, is a magnificent example of the art of great and unshackled song writing – and of a singer making a great song into a mighty song. Liam’s menacing lower register and a brooding Bowie timbre with his moody vibrato, turns this into an epic. Bond theme-esque, utterly anthemic with a gargantuan chorus. Davey’s flugel solo is the cherry on the cake for the overall vibe. This song has just gotta be heard one day in a big hall like The Royal Albert, with a 60-piece orchestra and a bloody great big sound system. I’d pay good money to hear that.
“This Might Be Love” is a more commercial cut, more up-tempo than the opener, driven along by the click click click of the snare drum rim and jingly jangly guitars, the harmonies add great value. “BURMA” (title track of the recent EP release) goes back to the more solemn vibe of the first cut. Lovely pinging double bass notes. Beautiful structure and an emotion-soaked vocal. The horn solo again seals the deal for the overall atmosphere. Liam’s lower register is dark and sultry. When he slips into the upper register, it gives the material lots of light and shade, and takes us from despair to hope.
“The Innermost Light”. Another uber-atmospheric and cinematic feel. Deep chesty vocal, again nods to the late and the great Mr. David Jones. Shit hot song which was co-penned by The Libertines and The Jackals star Carl Barat, who also plays guitars on the track. Penultimate track, “Seasons Of Joy”, another standout. Closer, “F***ing In Joy And Sorrow” again sets the bar high in songwriting, and yet again, Liam doesn’t put a foot wrong vocally. Far from it. I bet you cannot move in his gaff for Jacques Brel recordings…
The delivery across these 10 cuts is sometimes OTT and over blown, deliberately so and it works. Grand. Loud. Mighty. But in Liam’s vocal ability, he still manages to show vulnerability at the same time as a self-assurance and self-empowerment. This album will be like a bleedin’ great big jar of Marmite to some. It could make Morrissey seem a happy chappie in comparison.
I do not know how academic this pair were at school and college, but here, as CousteauX, they get an ‘A Star’ in chemistry. That’s the key. In love, they say you only really find “the one”, once in a lifetime. Every pot has a lid that fits perfectly. Mr Liam and Mr Davey are the perfect pairing musically, and even though this sounds like a contrived pun, it is not meant to be: They really do have the X factor. Cowell would hate them, which is exactly how it should be! The X in their new name represents “a kiss and a scar”, they say. Pretty apt way of summarising the topic of their material too, maybe. Hurt, dirt and innocence. Sleaze, dirt and grit. All writ large.
If you consider that Liam writes not one word or note of this material, but can deliver it as though he has given birth to each song in a painful, lengthy induced labour, each verse, chorus, word, sentence and nuance offered as though his life depends on it; there’s clearly a match made in heaven here. Some of the greatest singers ever were also not involved in penning their own songs, so there’s no shame in that at all, especially when you have an instrument and an ability like Liam’s and can craft the songs to fit your vocal like a snug fit, best kid leather Harrod’s glove, no matter who writes it. Mr Sinatra did OK with “My Way”, didn’t he
This is one of those rare times when one can be completely blown away by what we hear, and need to take a break after a few tracks to get our breath back. But for some, it’ll be like the sound of a burning pet shop, and they’ll wish to keep the record handy for the mother-in-law’s funeral. As I said; Marmite…
Me. I cannot stand the smell of that dark brown sludge in a jar, let alone the taste. But this record is all about the intoxicating smell and the taste of imminent big success, if there’s justice, and I cannot get enough. Mercury Prize judges, over here, over here…
- September 19th 2017, 100 Cub, Oxford Street, London. Catch the band live at their album launch gig, with special guests promised. Sure to be a red hot ticket.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’