Lucky Soul

A Coming of Age

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Greenwich retro-pop darlings Lucky Soul took three years to follow up the (modest) surprise success of their delightful debut, with band mastermind Andrew Laidlaw near-penniless and literally living in the studio during this album's extended, painstaking gestation period. When it arrived, the well-named A Coming of Age found the group gracefully refining its vintage-leaning aesthetic, growing more ambitious and assured with its arrangements, and shedding just a bit of its youthful breeziness for a more restrained, slightly darker tone. Not that the band's unabashed fondness for 1960s girl group pop and sophisticated soul sounds ever overwhelmed its work to the point of novelty or pastiche, but here those influences feel even more seamless, natural, and strikingly, viably modern. There are a few slight but savvy outward steps: some heavier guitar leads here and there, vague countrypolitan inflections on "Upon Hilly Fields," a touch of disco glam to the rousing opener "Woah Billy!" (a song inspired, curiously, by the evidently effortless nonchalance of veteran troubador Billy Bragg), and the swirling, bombastic Bond-style melodrama of the terrific title track (an epic three minutes if ever there were). But Lucky Soul's best move is keeping their sound largely intact, simply offering more of all the things that made their debut so immediately, lastingly lovable: more handclaps and horns, more luscious, lavish strings, more of Ali Howard's swoony, girlish vocals, and best of all, even more irresistible throwback dance grooves. Assured uptempo standouts like the Motown-via-Dexys twist 'n' skank of "White Russian Doll," the organ-led bounce of "Ain't Nothing Like a Shame," and the strutting Northern soul stomper "Up in Flames" more than hold their own against the first album's fizzy floor-fillers. Strangely, where this album falls short of its predecessor is on the slower, sensitive numbers, which tend to be amiable, doo woppy ambles rather than all-out ballads (only the pleasant but ultimately undistinguished "Warm Water" approaches the mark there). There's no shortage of lovelorn lyrics (perhaps puzzling given the romance that bloomed between Laidlaw and Howard), but nothing with quite the emotional heft and potency of songs like "My Darling, Anything" and "Baby I'm Broke," moments that elevated The Great Unwanted from a brilliant piece of pop to a truly timeless creation. If that minor shortcoming relegates A Coming of Age to being nothing but a consistent, consummate, brilliant piece of pop, listeners can still count themselves very lucky indeed.

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