November 27, 2010

Review: Paramount Styles: Heaven's Alright (Cycle / Konkurrent)

Heaven's Alright 

Paramount Styles is led by singer-songwriter Scott McCloud and drummer Alexis Fleisig, two of the principals from Girls Against Boys (GVSB) one of the most underrated rock bands of the 1990s, who flirted with and got burned by their move from indie-rock to major label status, becoming enmeshed in the typical music biz machinery before retreating back to indie-land.

After a time away from music, McCloud formed Paramount Styles with Fleisig and released a fine debut, Failure, American Style, in 2008, a stripped-down, electroacoustic album full of acidic insights on the music biz (“Drunx, Whores and Mzk People”) and on life in the band’s home base, New York City: “Come to New York / get famous / get dead famous” sang McCloud on that album’s appropriately titled “Come To New York.”  The album was “adult” rock, not in the sense of being safe or boring, but in its successful attempt to make rock and roll grow up thematically, a la the best efforts of that other New Yorker, Lou Reed. 

Now the band is back with Heaven’s Alright, which polishes their sound with more layered production courtesy of Geoff Sanoff, while retaining McCloud’s vision for the band as grown-up indie rock.

Highlights here include “Amsterdam Again," one of McCloud’s finest lyrical efforts to date, which finds the singer confronting the weariness of a musician’s life on the road, before finding redemption after a brush with mortality: “Cause I got tired tired tired tired tired tired tired of life / and in St. Petersburg these guys they pulled a knife / Yeah and I was ready I was ready, I was ready, ready to die /  But I’m so glad, so glad, that I survived / In Amsterdam again.”

“The Girls of Prague” is another standout, featuring shimmering acoustic guitar and some thunderous drumming from Fleisig, as the singer ponders the delights of the females in a foreign city: “The girls of Prague / make me want to go to jail / why not?”

“The Greatest,” which could be about a past love affair or about McCloud’s old band (or both), is set to a retro-80s musical backdrop that recalls both Depeche Mode and New Order.  The wistful “Steal Your Love” is anchored by a delicate piano motif that brings to mind Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” while the fire of GVSB is revived in the smoking “Desire Is Never Enough,” which indicts mindless materialism: “God save us all / they want to run until they die … When all your dreams are fading fast / and all your scenes weren’t meant to last / you realize desire … is never enough.”

A couple of songs here, “Give Us Some Time” and “White Palace” seem fairly undistinguished in the context of the rest of the album, perhaps trying too hard for a mainstream rock sound, but overall, Heaven’s Alright is a worthy successor to this band’s debut.  Don’t miss Paramount Styles when they (to quote the album’s fiery live closer) “come to where you are.”

--Johnny Walker (Black) 

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