Various Artists

Songs for the Jet Set, Vol. 1

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What is kitsch? What is retro? Descriptions like these are nothing more than a trap, really, especially when it comes to the first volume of Songs for the Jet Set, a playful, escapist romp through the suave and decadent cocktail, space-age, French new wave, and chic psychedelic pop native only to the '60s. But the compilation isn't just an attempt to mimic those hedonistic, ridiculously stylish impulses of yore, it literally re-creates the ambience and mood of the era. The result is an album that dramatically veers through variable shades and degrees of swank pop, but does so with the kind of infectious verve and vibrancy that makes you fall in love with the stuff, even if it is against your better judgment. There is a cinematic slant to the music that recalls such '60s soundtrack practitioners as Claude Lelouch, Nelson Riddle, Ennio Morricone, and John Barry, and the album even includes a couple covers of film songs. Viva Maria squeezes out a rendition of Henry Mancini's "Nothing to Lose," originally performed by Claudine Longet in Blake Edwards' The Part, while "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher"'s guitars open Loveletter's gossamer-light cover of "Barbarella," a Davy Jones-singing-bossa-nova tune. Even more befitting, the British artists on this compilation (British maven Mike Alway is its instigator) cover songs from bands on the lightest, most harmonic end of the American '60s spectrum. Loveletter gives the Cowsills' "We Can Fly" a go and turns it into an updated but spot-on approximation of guileless Sagittarius/Millennium soft rock orbit, a Vegas psych-pop amalgamation of Curt Boettcher and Lawrence Welk. The Tomorrow's World cover of Free Design's signature tune, "Kites Are Fun," is infused with sunny Thursday-afternoon-in-the-park harmonies. But the most charming part of the volume is the life-like period gusto that the bands put into their original tunes, which tend to be just as good as the archival songs. From the galloping "Leslie Phillips in Santiago" by Tomorrow's World with its flamenco picking and go-go bass to the woozy Classics IV guitars of Milky's suggestive "The Emperor of Oranges" to Wallpaper's mesmerizingly groovy, faux studio hippie-exploitation psychedelia, the music manages to be both slinky and innocent, coquettish and corrupt, but always brilliant fun. It is an album of plastic op-art sheen, blonde coos, and ba-bas tailor-made for space-age bachelor pads, far-out dragstrip clubs, opium dens, and rock & roll aeroplanes. It isn't concerned with authenticity or interested in irony, only in setting the mood. It is a trifle, yes, but an absolutely delicious one.

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