Graham "Suggs" McPherson

The Lone Ranger

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A widespread ska revival in the mid- to late '90s paved the way for the commercially successful solo debut of Madness frontman Graham "Suggs" McPherson, the best-known torchbearer of the previous generation of ska-popsters. Suggs has always placed a premium on being cool, which becomes slightly less endearing as he ages. Indeed, the more hyper tracks on The Lone Ranger leave the 34-year-old singer sounding almost winded. Ironically, it is the dark-toned pop ballads ("Green Eyes," "She's Gone," "4 AM") that really showcase the richness of Suggs' velvet baritone. They also contain the best songwriting on the record. The sultry "Green Eyes," which Suggs composed with Madness alums Mike Barson and Carl Smyth, compares favorably with the best material in the band's canon. Suggs wrote about half of the album himself, but he doesn't demonstrate any significant songwriting talent. His songs ("Alcohol," "Haunted," "Off on Holiday," "Fortune Fish") are forgettably dippy ska with frequently grating lyrics. He fares far better on the songs co-written with Barson, who appears to have a stronger sense of melody. Suggs and Barson share production duties with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Together, the four of them manage to come up with a record that sounds as if it doesn't have a producer. The Lone Ranger has the feel of an amateur demo, populated primarily by drum machines and synthesizers that apparently so embarrassed the musicians that in the album's credits, no one is accused of playing an instrument. But despite the weakness of the production, Suggs manages credible covers of the Beatles' "I'm Only Sleeping" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia." The latter provided Suggs with his biggest hit single, despite the questionable inclusion of a reggae rap (perhaps stealing the idea from Erasure's Abba-esque). But, hey, as long as it's cool!

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