REVIEW: Martin Carr - 'The Breaks' (Tapete Records)

Martin Carr was the songwriter behind the Boo Radleys, who built up an army of fans in the 90s putting out brilliantly experimental pop records and even cracked the mainstream with the eternal 1995 radio staple 'Wake Up Boo'. After the commercial failure of their final (and massively overlooked) album 'Kingsize', the group split in 1998 and Carr returned a couple of years later as Bravecaptain, before eventually deciding to release records under his own name. With many other 90s bands reforming, there has been no hint of the Boo Radleys returning to action, and very few people would expect them to anyway. 

It's a pleasure to find Carr returning with his first album in five years. "A theme running through my work is not fitting in,” he says. "Whether it was at school, work, in a band and even now, a 46-year-old with two small children – I always feel slightly alienated from the process. I think everybody knows what’s going on except me.” 

Backed by a group of musicians including RW/FF favourite Andy Fung (Cymbient, Derrero, No Thee No Ess) on drums, the album lifts you into the clouds right from the beginning as it opens with 'The Santa Fe Skyway', a glorious helping of Stax-flavoured dream-soul that scores top marks all round, particularly for its joyous instrumentation. With the prospect of often having to play solo in mind, Carr wrote many of these songs for playing on the acoustic guitar, resulting in a set of tracks with strong melodies at its core. And it's more than evident on the thriving, organ driven high point 'St Peter In Chains', a glorious burst of vitality where Carr masks dark subjects with a bright tune, a trick he has pulled off so well in the past. The reflective sigh of 'Mainstream' revisits Jimmy Webb/Bacharach flavours reminiscent of that final Boo Radleys LP 'Kingsize', drawing lines between now and then. Lyrically it's an interesting piece that compares Carr's current place in mainstream society with the contrast of his days in the music business, describing getting up in the morning to take the kids to school, and being temporarily taken back in time whenever the breakfast show anthem 'Wake Up' comes on the radio. 

With the beautifully haunting 60s colours of 'Mountain', we get a classic Carr moment, immaculately arranged and built on the sort of great song crafting that would make it a standout on any of his previous albums. Another highlight follows with the ghostly acoustic beauty of 'Sometimes It Pours', a fine moment delivered in that voice and melodic style that (like much of his previous work) seem to suit Autumn like nothing else, tones embedded with a genuine melancholic yet uplifting quality. Although it develops nicely near the end, 'Senseless Apprentice' is bright but not quite as strong musically, while 'No Money In My Pocket' compels with touches of lyrical humour and a reminder to make the most of what you've got. After experimenting with electronics on previous releases, 'The Breaks' has a more organic feel and each song has plenty of room to breathe, with a humble warmth and modesty radiating sublimely from 'I Don't Think I'll Make It', another standout moment that demonstrates his undiminished brilliance as a songwriter. He doesn't always get it completely right all the time. Like on a few of the Boo Radleys numbers, a good verse turns out to be an unfulfilled promise on the irritating 'Mandy Get Your Mello On', which is ruined by a weak chorus and sounds especially weak in comparison to the rest of this LP. Luckily it's only a small blip, as 'The Breaks' winds down in playfully optimistic, beautifully subtle fashion with the quietly upbeat acoustic mood of the closing title track. 

In terms of his vocal performance, being without the Boo Radleys for so long has gradually enabled Carr to step further out of the shadows, and as a result now sings with more authority than on previous records. His gift for classic pop songwriting is as outstanding as ever during the best of what 'The Breaks' has to offer. There's more intimacy throughout this record, which allows the listener a deeper insight into Carr's life and a swim through his headspace. By the end of 'The Breaks', we've learned a lot more about this man and feel like we're finally a little bit closer to actually knowing him. And any album that features the line "If Jesus ran a chip shop all our fish would be free" has to be worth checking out doesn't it? 

Flawed but charmingly understated, and occasionally wonderful, it's a welcome return from one of British music's unsung heroes. 7.2/10


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