Some label headings operate on an uneven playing field. You could argue that there is no such thing as a bad vampire movie, but it will require creative book-keeping, like shifting Vampire in Brooklyn into the “Bad Eddie Murphy Movies” category. Similarly, the term Brit-pop conjures mostly positive feelings, but that’s partly because if you hear a shitty rock band from the U.K. you don’t call it Brit-pop – you call it Coldplay. South is all Brit-pop, and it has the pedigree to prove it: Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars is the band’s third album under the tutelage of former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown (so that’s what he’s been doing), and they were originally signed to James Lavelle(http://www.prefixmag.com/reviews/cds/J/James-Lavelle/Global-Underground-No-26-Romania/519)’s trendy Mo-Wax Recordings.
The bass melody and drum crack that kicks off opener “Shallow” is immediately familiar. This is New Order minus dance floor ambition; rolling like “Love Vigilantes,” it’s introspective dream-wave and catchy as hell. It also makes follow-up “Habit of a Lifetime” that much more frustrating and perplexing, a recurring issue on an album so close to greatness that I counted eight perfect choruses. It’s book-ended by weightless, guitar wimpy-ness and too-smooth vocals that wouldn’t drive a Teenage Fanclub or Nada Surf cast-off. And of course it precedes (and wastes) a perfect bell-and-chime-driven chorus.
There are far too many buttons and dials available to music engineers, and this makes South’s decision to self-produce both admirable and questionable. The idea was good – lighten up on the keyboards to focus on the rock – but the record is a fierce display of a Cheney-like scattershot that is sometimes half-baked (“What Holds Us” desperately needs more backing, or tinkering, or more anything), usually fantastic (“Up Close and Personal” is piano, bells, chimes, energy, vocal reverb and stomp; “Pieces of a Dream” is a hazy, sweeping epic) and occasionally overwrought (“Know Yourself” slips into melodrama and Goo-Goo goo).
An abundance of hook-laden choruses, New Order analog-boogie and Stone Roses-cool could not be more frustratingly baked into this crumbly crust. That’s all right – that it evokes such a reaction is evidence that there is plenty here to pull you in. The members of South may just have a five-star album in them, but for now, they’re the future of Brit-pop. And unless they can pull it together, they always will be.
“A Place in Displacement” video