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Conquest Review

by William Ruhlmann

As with previous releases by the 21st century reboot of the Scruffs, notably their last album, 2007's Pop Manifesto, Conquest finds singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist/producer Stephen Burns, with a lineup also featuring Mike Baillie (guitar), Simon Cottrell (bass), and Mark Rodgers (drums), plus a large supporting cast, going for more of a neo-classic rock/prog rock style rather than the power pop for which the original band was known in the 1970s. Burns retains his talent for catchy melodies and his lyrical fascination with young women (one of them, in this case, is an "iPod Girl"), while as a record-maker he evokes mid-‘60s Beach Boys and Beatles, along with mid-‘70s Electric Light Orchestra (like the latter band, he even employs a string quartet). Making like Phil Spector, he constructs a Wall of Sound in which his gruff vocals are heavily echoed and often accompanied by what he calls "The Sun Records Million Dollar, Glaswegian 5 Quid Barbershop Choir." There are only a handful of members of that ensemble, according to the credits, but you've got to believe they've been overdubbed numerous times. And all the voices and horns and strings, plus the rock band at the center, have had a studio sheen applied to them to make the overall sound even bigger. Burns likes to focus on a particular instrument occasionally, as he does with Jim Spake's saxophone on "Savage Teen" and the organ on "Bad Memories." But he is after a widescreen effect on Conquest, and for the most part he achieves it.

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