When Subcircus emerged on the British pop scene in 1997 with "86'd," the band stood out from the pack not only because of its peculiar Britishness (fey, artful, prickly to the touch) but also because it incorporated a refreshing emo-charged blast of amplified emotion, thereby tapping a vein of genuine ardor rarely broached in the realm of Britpop. It almost made the quartet sound erotic (in a sissy sort of way). And there were few songs from the latter half of the '90s as electrifying and grandiose as "86'd," a swooping, ebbing, summer-struck anthem topped by the delicious, inimitable bubblegum vocals of frontman Peter Bradley. The song owed something to both U2 and Radiohead, while also tipping its cap to glam rock and the kind of gloriously woebegone wretches (Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker come immediately to mind) endemic to the British pop scene. Nothing else on Carousel really challenges the unimpeachable mastery of that single, but it is nevertheless a superlative debut album that offers its fair share of noble triumphs. First and foremost, Bradley's voice transforms even the album's lesser moments into rapturous, ecstatic affairs. He has the kind of confounding, mixed spice of a voice -- lusty, naïve, cartoonishly flamboyant, strangely sublime -- that is absolutely enveloping, the kind in which you can get lost. But there are also songs on the album that stand out because they are simply stellar tunes: from the gentle, strummed "I Want You Like an Accident" to songs on which the band goes alien and atmospheric, like the stray guitar doodles and electronic ambience of "Las Zoot Suit" and the sublimely romantic "So Strange." On the latter cut, Subcircus gets as close to matching the sound and tone of Jeff Buckley's music as anyone else is likely to. Bombastic in every good way, Carousel has an opulent sense of whimsy, a fairy tale charm. It is mesmeric and drunk with its own dreaminess. The best songs easily make up for the few defects, and are strong enough to make the album one of the most interesting first efforts to come out of London at the end of the decade.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart