The Beatles. The Kinks. Small
Faces. The Jam. The La's. Even Oasis. British bands that,
despite the odd rock'n'roll cover and attempts at various soul
classics, are, shall we say, "terribly British". They're also
presumably big influences on The High Strung. But, whilst it
makes a change from hearing Brits trying to be Jim Morrison,
what's going on with these boys? They're from Detroit!
Well, there's quite a bit going on actually. Trying to follow
in the footsteps of the aforementioned influences leaves you
open to the possibility of sounding as limp as Cast or as crass
as current NME faves The Libertines. But these guys have taken
the tunesmith qualities of the '60's beat merchants, etc. and
married it with a looseness more associated with American
acts. And by and large they succeed.
The seven-track EP Follow Through Your Backhand,
complete with a nifty tennis player cover, opens strongly with
The World's Smallest Violin, one of two tracks here from
2003's These Are Good
Times album. In fact, this song is perhaps The High
Strung at their most fully realised. A ska-like guitar-driven
verse gives way to a chorus featuring a Beatle-ish descending
chord sequence, before concluding with a thrashing, piercing
outro that Sonic Youth
would be proud of. And the lyrics of "Can you hear the world's
smallest violin playing just for you?" show an altogether more
subtle approach than the rather direct "Can I put my free hand
up your sweater" chat-up line they've employed in the past.
Who said romance was dead!
That Is All I Want From You follows, with A Hard Days Night feel and a melody that, for all its intricacies, is strong enough to have me wake up humming it the morning after. The Beatles connection continues when that Taxman bass riff that The Jam so casually ripped off for their second UK number one, Start, makes yet another appearance on Watch It Not End. But to be honest, bass-line apart, it's not one of the more memorable songs here. Interestingly, it's one of two tracks here not written by the band.
Whatever He Wanted is much better, with a deliciously melodic bass-line
and a "ba ba ba" bit that's sure to appeal to the Julian Cope
fan in me. Likewise Turned It Away has a truly fab chorus
that brings to mind The Beatles' more psychedelic moments. You
can almost imagine the singer thinking he's the walrus!
Robot, the other cover version here, has an early Oasis
feel, not just musically -- think Cigarettes & Alcohol
without the Get It On (Bang A Gong) riff, but with it's
almost nonsensical Supersonic-like lyrics. It's definitely the
more successful of the two covers. It also gains extra points
for some Television-like moments, and the delightfully shambolic
guitar solo at the close, too.
The final track, It's On, is an absolute corker. With
its Lennon-flavoured vocals, a classic tune slightly reminiscent
of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away and a telling "Your
face gave you away" line, you've got a track as good as virtually
anything I've heard from a guitar act these past few months.
And since It's On, like The World's Smallest Violin,
is from their most recent album, it bodes well for The High
Strung's future. So don't be fooled by the lo-fi sounding mp3's
on their website
that make you think that the High Strung are operating in The
Gossip country, these boys know how to fill the speakers.
They might never sell as many records as their influences, but
I've got a sneaky feeling there's a lot more to come here.