Pitched somewhere in between the Pipettes' campy, winking co-optation of 1960s girl group pop and soul and Camera Obscura's more understated, less mannered evocation of same, Greenwich sextet Lucky Soul's debut album represents an exemplary model for retro revivalism in the context of modern indie pop. It hardly shies away from its readily apparent stylistic touchstones -- the timeless, immaculate popcraft of Phil Spector and Motown; the Anglified sophistication of Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw -- but neither is it slavishly imitative. Crucially, the style never overwhelms the substance, which is to say that as extravagant as the lush, period-appropriate orchestrations get -- and they're pretty extravagant, with all the horns, handclaps, strings, and auxiliary percussion (bongos, tambourines, cowbells, castanets) one could hope for -- it's all in the service of some top-notch songwriting. These are expertly crafted, emotionally vivid, and frequently witty slices of classicist pop that would probably sound great in just about any setting, especially given Ali Howard's sweet but surprisingly potent vocals. Of course, the stylistic trappings do contribute a considerable amount of the fun, and when they're in full effect the album simply sparkles, especially on sunny, upbeat numbers like the giddy, horn-fueled opener "Add Your Light to Mine, Baby," incendiary Northern soul stomper "Get Outta Town!," and the monstrously infectious "Lips Are Unhappy," whose impeccable guitar tone is nearly as irresistible as its "shake, shimmy shimmy, shake shake" breakdown. As great as these songs are, the band is, if anything, even more compelling on its more subdued material: the gospel-inflected slow burn of "The Towering Inferno," the unabashed romanticism of "My Darling, Anything," and the wispy closing trio of lullabies (including a hidden bonus track about drifting to sleep). Best of all is the aching, desperate ballad "Baby I'm Broke," whose opening minute is among the album's sparsest, with nothing but lavishly reverbed guitar arpeggios underpinning Howard's poignant vocal. As is the way of things on this album, the song is soon fleshed out with drums, multiple layers of organ, and distant, ghostly background vocals, but none of that detracts from its stark, profoundly heartfelt pathos. And that's why, despite its blatantly stylized veneer, The Great Unwanted ultimately belongs closer to the more artfully nuanced, Camera Obscura end of the (admittedly concise) retro-pop spectrum. Like the musically more adventurous but similarly '60s-indebted Saint Etienne, but unlike the comparably styled and equally vivacious Pipettes (for whom they opened on their first gig), Lucky Soul transcend mere novelty or nostalgic homage, truly inhabiting the human heart of the perennially vital pop tradition.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman