The Mutton Birds

Rain, Steam & Speed

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Envy of Angels has a higher percentage of remarkable songwriting, as anyone who's heard the smooth, flowing, lovely-but-not-wimpy "April," "Come Around," "She's Been Talking," and "Come Around" can attest. But that's not such a bad tradeoff for an LP that sounds more immediate; the self-produced Rain, Steam & Speed is less streamlined than Envy producer Hugh Jones' otherwise typically brilliant productions. And a good four or five of its tracks stand up to the greatest New Zealand tunes ever, by the Chills, Straightjacket Fits, Bats, Clean, etc. In fact, marry those bands' burbling, mannered, subconscious pop mastery with a more strident guitar sound and more upfront presentation, and you have the brave-sounding, luxuriant, gorgeous pop of "Green Lantern," "As Close as This," "Pulled Along By Love," and "Ray." This predilection peaks on a radiant accomplishment called "Winning Numbers." It arrests right from the brief, lofty, descending a cappella vocal it begins with, like diving off into a pool. The melody and lyrics are stirring -- insisting he would rip up a winning lottery ticket, singer Don McLashan prefers his life over those of the rich and famous -- and his crystalline, sterling voice fits the circular guitar trills wonderfully. The band even pulls off a country track, with McLashan sighing that he's had enough of "The Goodbye Drug," a drug he "used to like." So far along from their naive, self-titled 1992 debut on kiwi label Bag, the Mutton Birds have modestly but assuredly stepped into the current void and reminded listeners of the luxurious pleasures and romantic mysteries pop still can seek. (

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