Sympathetic Stupid

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Epicure - Main Street

I still love Epicure, but I'm not in love with them.

We've been growing apart for some time. We first met when Richard Kingsmill played Opportunity's Knocking on the Australian Music Show on JJJ - it must have been early 1998. The honeymoon period of our whirlwind romance was Fold, which I still look back on with astonishment. Quiet moments; the lush, perfectly produced ballad Calm; On Hold, a smooth instrumental; and the epic Last Dance. Not all quiet, though; Johnny Venus, with that huge funk breakdown; the deep, dirty crescendo on Bottom Of A Well; and the anthemic Sunsilk Girl. And the less friendly bits; Feet From Under Me's angry, yet still affectionate "let me know what you want from me/so I can be a friendly enemy"; Juan's rock-rap on Fly The Flag out of "why'd you go/why'd you go/why"; and of course Opportunity's Knocking: "where the fuck have you been".

Ah, the halycon days. Back when festivals were still fun and JJJ was still cool. An album which added up like few others.

As the relationship progressed, the past started to come into it. Airmail. Things were patchier - after every perfect Gentle Like A Tidal Wave or Airmail moment, there was a not-quite-meshing Momento Man or The System to bring us back to earth. But we still had that passion, that raw energy and excitement. Closure - "now I am as I've always been" - anger delivered with so much feeling.

The Elevator and Life Sentence EPs were a development phase for the relationship - untrustworthy, unpredictable, uncomfortable change. Elevator gave us The Angel's Wings, a solid harking back to the best rockers of Fold; while Listens To The Rain gave a taste of where we were going. I wasn't certain I liked it, we were slowing down, settling, becoming less idiosyncratic and more radio-friendly. And the live show (the sex?) was becoming less exciting and compelling - it was lights-off, missionary-position routine.

But despite this, the Life Sentence EP was un-hatable. Five tracks, all of the highest quality, from the beautiful organ line on the title ballad, through the ear-candy chorus of Armies Against Me. Then the highlight, Isolate - Juan showing just how far his vocals had come since the shouting, rapping, tyro who drove Fold. Buckley-esque is not a completely inappropriate adjective. Though it's not actually a word. But all of a sudden there was nothing fast, energetic, exciting about the relationship.

There were no surprises, then, when The Goodbye Girl was released. A beautiful, comfortable album, with so many spots of real, tender, poignant emotion. Bluesy, on So Broken and No-One's Listening, but predominantly shoe-gazer heart-on-sleeve stuff. Dime-a-dozen? No, that's truly unfair. But, at this point, there's something definitely missing from us. I'm waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, from dreams featuring others where once there was only Epicure. And they're so much more fulfilling. The seriously similar Art Of Fighting - less emotion, but more drive and energy. The exciting unpredictability of Architecture In Helsinki. The unique electronic structures of New Buffalo. The country-styled Wilco-esque noisy variations of Khancoban.

So, and finally, to Main Street.

All the ingredients are there, as in The Goodbye Girl - but there's little progression here, we're in a rut and I don't think there's any way out. The first four tracks are really good, especially Tightrope Walker, despite the kinda creepy "watching you sleep" thing. But somewhere in the final third of the disc (usually in Eve Clover), Juan's voice - consistently at the top of the mix - begins to grate. This is paradoxical for such a sweet, pure voice, but it's the unvarying, similar nature of the songs on the album that does it. More than ever before, this album turns consistency into a fault.

Few are as good musically as this combo, few have such well-crafted tunes and 'how many dudes you know sing like this?' - 'not many, if any'. Juan's voice (and I strongly suspect also his songwriting) remains Epicure's unassailable advantage over the challengers. But I think they might have slipped into musical groupthink. They want to succeed so much, but they all write the exact same songs, which on the face of it makes perfect sense, but in practice causes everything to converge unerringly to a point. Not by any means a bad point, but not what I loved them for.

Last chance? Yeah, I think so. I'm too young to settle down behind the picket fence, with the Commodore, the above-ground pool and, god forbid, the kids. I'd like to think we can still be friends. And maybe if we'd met five years later it'd all be different. Thank you Epicure, and fare well.