The rad return of Martin Carr
Of all the bands in the U.K.’s shoegazer/Britpop movements devoted to reinterpreting the psychedelic ’60s for the postmodern ’90s, Martin Carr and his mates in the Boo Radleys were the hardest to pigeonhole. More forward-looking than Ride but as deft with a hook as Oasis, as danceable as Primal Scream but as creative as My Bloody Valentine, and above all as veddy, veddy British as Blur, the group had something for everyone but never connected with anyone—at least not on a mainstream level in the U.S.
The Rads hit their peak on Creation Records with the exuberant Wake Up! (1995) and the masterful C’Mon Kids (1997), a spirited invitation to join in a truly modern vision of the psychedelic ideal. They broke up after Kingsize in 1998, and while the band’s driving force, guitarist, and songwriter Carr continued to be sporadically active on his own, it was easy to lose track of him—until now. On his new album The Breaks, due Sept. 29, the now hirsute musician has lost none of the effervescent verve that made his old band such a joy, though he’s still mining familiar lyrical turf, exploring the role of the perennially alienated outsider (as befits someone who named his band after the enigmatic character in To Kill A Mockingbird).
“A theme running through my work is not fitting in,” Carr has said, only now he’s doing it as a 46-year-old father of two instead of a confused twentysomething, justifying the fact that he still likes to smoke pot, but fretting that he’s late in dropping the little ones off at school because the minivan is on the fritz. The charm is that his emotional angst always is paired with summery pop hooks (witness the first single and opening track, “The Santa Fe Skyway”), massive singalong chorsues (“St. Peter in Chains,” “Mandy”), and the perfect orchestral touches of some swelling strings here or a brassy horn flourish there (“I Don’t Think I’ll Make It,” “Mountains”), the combination of which leaves you wondering, “Why on earth aren’t more people hip to this guy and loving this?”
Ah, the familiar curse of the power-pop cult hero! Carr always has wanted to reach as many people as possible, and he’d maybe even “sell out” (such a quaint ’90s term!), except for the fact that nobody’s buying. Not that he doesn’t imagine a future where he replaces CeeLo as a judge on The Voice. As he sings in “Mainstream”: “And here I am/Swimming with the mainstream/I tell my friends/I subverted from within… I tell myself/I’m happy as I am.”
It doesn’t matter. Whether it hits the top of the charts or remains a cherished secret among fans in the know, The Breaks is an album you need to hear.
Martin Carr, The Breaks (Tapete Records)
Rating on the four-star scale: 4 stars.