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Memory Muscle

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Album Review

After dipping his toes into solo waters with 2006's The Fi-Lo Beddow EP, Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss finally takes the plunge with his debut full-length album, Memory Muscle. While his band's recent output remains firmly entrenched in the jangly guitar pop sound of its mid-'90s heyday, the softly spoken vocalist has used his temporary freedom to produce a record that has more in common with the West Coast '70s country-rock of Love and Neil Young than the laddish era of Brit-pop. Produced by longtime collaborator Gordon Mills, its 11 tracks (five of which are re-recordings from his previous EP) still contain the same sweet whimsical melodies and gentle Home Counties-accented vocals he's renowned for, but on this occasion, they're backed by layers of lush strings (arranged by James Bond composer David Arnold) Nashville-tinged acoustics, and shuffling folk rhythms such as on the Kurt Vonnegut-inspired "So It Goes," the harmonica-driven "Buckle Up Baby Doll," and the lilting melodies of "Lay Low." It's a subtle change in direction that suits Morriss' dark dry wit and increasingly world-weary vocals down to the ground, particularly on the brass-fused spaghetti Western vibes of "I'm Sick," the Ian Dury-style campfire singalong of opener "How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back," and the psychedelic leanings of "Digging a Hole." But as accomplished as his self-penned compositions are, it's the two cover versions that best showcase Morriss' new sound, as he turns Teenage Fanclub's shoegazing anthem "Alcoholiday" into a gorgeous Mellotron-led lullaby, and adds mariachi guitars, lo-fi distortion, and a dreamy hymnal quality to a spellbinding Mercury Rev-esque rendition of Lee Hazlewood's "My Autumn's Done Come." The sparkling acoustic pop of "Lemon & Lime" and melancholic balladry of "Unwanted Friend" shows Morriss still remains a Bluetone at heart, but Memory Muscle's simple charm and well-crafted songs show he's more than capable of going it alone full-time. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Biography

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

As frontman of the underrated indie four-piece the Bluetones, Mark Morriss' softly spoken vocals provided a more sensitive edge to the attitude-laden mid-'90s Brit-pop era. Born in Hounslow, Middlesex in 1971, Morriss began performing in his teens in various local bands before teaming up with Adam Devlin, Eds Chesters, and brother Scott to form the Bluetones, whose debut album, Expecting to Fly, reached number one in 1996. The quartet has continued to record new material ever since, despite decreasing...
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Memory Muscle, Mark Morriss
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