SELF HELP SERENADE Marjorie Fair
Back in the mid-1970s, the Hayden Planetarium in New York used to host a show called Laserium. It was where astronomy met FM rock. Under the Hayden's starry dome, multi-colored lasers would dance, duel, squiggle and generally just make everyone in the audience go, "Ah, cooool!"
The soundtrack to Laserium drew from the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp, Alan Parsons Projects--all those bands that had one foot in the prog world but still knew how to fashion a great pop chorus. I was reminded of Laserium as I listened to the debut album by L.A.-based combo Marjorie Fair.
Leader Evan Slamka's beautifully dreamy songs would be perfect laser show candidates. Even the titles are suitably sky-rotechnic: "Stare," "Waves," "Silver Gun," and "My Sun Is Setting Over Her Magic." The elements of Slamka's songs--minor-key melodies, chord changes with a funhouse tilt, dense clusters of vocal harmony, searing head-back guitar breaks, and a mid-tempo beat perfect for contemplation (wacky tobacky optional)--have a classic rock sound that's a welcome change from all the uninspired punk-influenced stuff out right now.
The two tracks that made me reach for the repeat button were the Beatle-flavored "Please Don't" (very Abbey Road, almost like "Sun King" meets "Because") and the glorious "Waves," which rises and crests on the catchiest chorus hook I've heard all year. But really, there's not a weak song to be found on Self Help Serenade.
Slamka (a slightly disheveled gent who looks like he wandered in from a Supertramp photo shoot) has a serious gift for tuneful and emotional songwriting, matched perfectly with Rob Schnapf's meticulous production (Beck, Elliott Smith). Add an able band, plus the help of such studio heavy-hitters as Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Joey Waronker, and Jon Brion (credited for "eleventh hour musical and spiritual insight, talent and commitment"), and you have a winner on all fronts.
Untrendy though this album may be, I think that it could become one of the sleeper hits of the year. I'll go a step further and say it might even turn out to be a modern classic, a kind of Dark Side Of The Moon for the new millennium. Bill DeMain