Friday, October 09, 2009

Album Review: "Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke

literally the least rowdy group of teenagers you will ever meet

Sad news this week: due to a computer hiccup, I do not have access to my music, and as such I do not have access to the requested albums I was planning on reviewing this week: the Smiths' Strangeways Here We Come and Morrissey's Viva Hate, both requested by my good friend Paul Grigas. Tragedy! Fortunately, other good friend Emily Vasseur has adopted my shitty laptop and I will probably be able to get it back without erasing my hard drive. So this is a good thing. Whenever I do get it back, I promise you that requested review post haste.

In the meantime, let's talk about another record that has enchanted me over the past couple months - Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke, which despite its misleading title actually has more than two songs on it! There are nine other tracks besides those two classics and they are mostly all good. If you don't know anything about the Left Banke, they were a 60's pop-rock group mostly known for epitomizing the "baroque pop" genre - that his, pop music with a whole lot of harpsichord and strings thrown in there. At least, that's the Left Banke definition. Keep in mind that this music sounds little to nothing like the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson style of baroque pop recorded around the same time ('66-'67), with super-complicated song structures and vocal arrangements and whathaveyou. The songs on Walk Away Renee aren't even heavily influenced by classical music, at least not to me - they're just pop songs with a whole lotta harpischord.

Thankfully, they're really good pop songs! Great, even. "Walk Away Renee," obviously, is the classic and the biggest hit, good enough to be covered - with equal greatness - by the Four Tops a couple years later. "Pretty Ballerina" is the other hit, one of their prettiest and most alluring songs, defined by Steve Martin Caro's plaintive vocals. There's also "She May Call You Up Tonight," my favorite Left Banke song and one of the best songs ever. It's a wonderful, catchy pop tune driven by a jazzy piano - like Vince Guaraldi or something. If nobody sang on it it would sound like "Linus and Lucy" or something. But man, the vocals are so CATCHY! It's a great song, and the entire reason I got into the Left Banke in the first place, thanks to Adam Spektor playing it on his radio show.

It's not very "baroque," though. Actually, a lot of songs on here aren't baroque in the slightest! It's funny, 'cause if you listen to songs like "Barterers And Their Wives" or "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" these guys sound like the most polite and reserved rock band that has ever existed. But THEN, you've got songs like "Evening Gown," a peppy harpsichord-driven rocker (??) with Steve Martin Caro almost YELPING his vocals, and "Lazy Day" which features an actual FUZZ GUITAR! Like some kind of NUGGET or something! But that's not even the weirdest part - "What Do You Know"? It's a COUNTRY ROCK SONG. Like "What Goes On" by the Beatles or something. Twangy guitars and everything. Lead guy sings like Ringo Starr all the sudden. HOW IS THIS BAROQUE IN ANY WAY YOU IDIOTS.

So yeah, the random stylistic diversions are unusual and unexpected, ESPECIALLY if you've only heard "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina." They aren't bad songs, though. And the ones that aren't whacky diversions are simply beautiful songs that deserve all of this world's love. Mysterious, subdued, yet accessible pop music - it's all here!

Oh, one more thing about the Left Banke. Michael Brown, their pianist and main songwriter - the guy that wrote every great song on here - was sixteen at the time. Sixteen!! Man, what were you and I doing at age sixteen? I was playing "Enter The Matrix" on Gamecube and writing Mega Man X fanfiction. This guy was writing "Walk Away Renee." Sheesh.

That's it for now. I am waiting for my comptuer to return to me, and once that happens you will be getting two things: 1) more requested reviews, and 2) a review of the new Flaming Lips album! Oh man it's a good one! I am actually gonna wait on the latter there until the album is officially released, just to be fair and decent, but that's coming up pretty soon anyway so I am not worried. Enjoy your weekend!

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