Lawrence Arabia

The Sparrow

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Given that James Milne's Lawrence Arabia identity is all about the elegant pose -- while his press can mention Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg, further antecedents can be found everywhere from Roxy Music to Deaf School, the el label, Jack, the Divine Comedy, and more besides -- the question is not whether his third album, The Sparrow, reinvents the wheel but puts its own stamp on proceedings. The end result is caught somewhere between enjoyment for its own sake and a sense of a well-traveled road, but if he has yet to fully write his "Big Louise" or "Requiem Pour un Con," he's still making an enjoyable series of songs. The key is the fact that he's as interested in a burning, steady intensity as much as aesthetic remove -- if the opening "Traveling Shoes" starts everything with a kind of heady beauty, the feeling of sharp drums and piano helps underscore a certain brawling touch as much as Arabia himself. This general kind of contrast plays throughout The Sparrow, and if it's a simple touch it's also a memorable one -- the stripped-down arrangement of "The 03" prioritizes the rhythm over the guitar interjections, only turning into a full-band performance toward the end, leaving Arabia's singing to float carefully with the bass. If calling a song "The Bisexual" seems like gilding the lily a bit -- or maybe just heading toward Momus territory full-on -- there's enough of the feeling of hetero-panic meets participation to intrigue, and when the arrangement suddenly introduces harmony vocals, bells, and horns, it's a lovely bit of tension resolved in company with the lyrics. Meanwhile, the Beatles-tinged feeling of "The Listening Times" turns into something just a little stronger, while the violin part emerges, then settles into a background shiver; "Early Kneecapping" takes that approach even more strongly, with a layered dub over a steady piano/drum pace reaching the album's highest point of pure art pop via drone-tinged nervousness.