The Monochrome Set


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For a band that got its start in the late '70s, the Monochrome Set sound remarkably sprightly on their 2016 album, Cosmonaut. It's their fourth album since main Monochrome man Bid re-formed the band in 2010, and it's also their best since then. With Bid taking over the guitar duties and the readdition of John Paul Moran's vintage keys, the band sounds in tiptop form, smoothly serving up a batch of songs that sound hijacked directly from the mid-'80s. With jangling Western guitars, tricky chord changes, cooing female backing vocals, and Bid's witty lyrics and vibrating croon, Cosmonaut is the best kind of sophisticated pop that brings back memories of Prefab Sprout, the Commotions, Orange Juice, the Attractions (minus Elvis C.), and, of course, the Monochrome Set themselves. The album isn't an anachronism or some kind of nostalgic set piece; it rocks pretty hard when it really gets going. The title track kicks things off with a bit of clanging, jumping rock & roll and the group keeps things at a steady boil throughout. Bid's guitar work is live-wire electric on these songs, twanging like Duane Eddy's ghost and generally ripping it up in time-honored rockabilly fashion. The cabaret crooners and blue-light ballads that pop up occasionally are showcases for Bid's still powerful vocals and his happily off-kilter wordplay. The rollicking "Squirrel in a Hat" is the foremost example of how unique the Monochrome Set are and were; the lovely "Tigress" shows that they can still break a heart with ease. The balance between these quiet, thoughtful songs, the needle-bouncing rockers, and the jumping Monkees-ish pop of tracks like "Stick Your Hand Up if You're Louche" makes for a thrill ride of an album, and a better example of modern guitar pop than Cosmonaut is pretty hard to find no matter where one might look. That Bid and his Set have been been doing it this well for as long as they have is a tribute to both the man and to the timeless nature of pop music itself.

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