Ian McNabb

Merseybeast

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Merseybeast (an album title to savor from the Liverpool native) marks McNabb's third solo collection of refreshing, heart-on-sleeve, no-hidden-agendas pop/rock. He communicates such an open, wide-eyed innocence through his work that it's difficult at first to believe he can be for real. But McNabb's willingness to express, from a male perspective, emotions uncommon for conventional rock's posturing swagger soon makes you a convert. When, for instance, was the last time a guy convincingly sang about "Camaraderie" in a way that could (at least, until the very end) apply in an equally touching way to a male or female respondent? The tone of McNabb's cosy-fireplace vocals -- especially on ballads like "Too Close to the Sun" -- sometimes evoke legendary crooner Scott Walker, likely through such second-hand bridges as David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, or perhaps fellow-Liverpudlian Julian Cope's (the Teardrop Explodes) influential 1981 Walker compilation The Godlike Genius Of....

At the same time, parts of Merseybeast (notably "Heydays" and "They Settled for Less than They Wanted") make me think of some lost Mick Ronson album. On his own sporadic solo releases, the late Spiders from Mars guitarist shared McNabb's talent for making an ingratiating, "golly-gee" naivete work to his advantage. (Speaking of "They Settled," I can also hear former Call vocalist Michael Been tackling this dense, lugubrious anthem of disappointment and missed opportunity, one of the rare downers on the disc.) "Don't Put Your Spell on Me" harkens back to Liverpool's postpunk salad days, a track that would have been envied in the early '80s by both Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes.

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