Kingmaker

Eat Yourself Whole

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It tries, bless its heart, it really does. Hardy was a vocal fan of such peaks of English rock as the Jam, Madness, and the Smiths, specifically celebrating the sense of immediate catchiness crossed with emotional connection, so it's no wonder that the group's debut turned out the way it did, aiming for just those heights. The results? On balance, mixed, just like the rest of the band's career. Part of the problem is that Hardy sounds almost exactly like a more shrill Miles Hunt of the Wonder Stuff (a comparison not entirely helped by the choice of Pat Collier as producer, having done the same honors for that band in earlier years). While Hardy is nowhere near as much of a bleater as, say, Jaime Harding of Marion, he's not really compelling either, with some notably clunky and obvious rhymes not really helping his case. Something like "Hard Times," meant to be an empathetic reflection on the human condition, just sounds like well-meaning doggerel. His guitar work is much better; if he's not the new Johnny Marr he's obviously listened to the right records a lot, blending in some fair feedback noise as needed. Bassist Howell and drummer Andrew are competent but not noticeably remarkable -- Hardy is the key focus of the band first and foremost -- though both at least sound like they could keep English festival crowds of the early '90s moving. Perhaps the band's best moment comes at the start with "Really Scrape the Sky," which in its own blustery way shows both a sense of solid arranging (starting with just the drums, hitting a full-band arrangement, then stripping things down a bit before a last exultant chorus) and amiable melody. In the end, though, Eat Yourself Whole is a pleasant but not deathless debut that takes on the big issues and the big bands without coming up trumps.

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