In the 21st century British Invasion, you might say that Coldplay are the Beatles, Radiohead are the Stones, and Keane are the Hollies.
So where does that leave multi-instrumentalist Matt Hales, aka Aqualung? With his misty minor key soundscapes and ghostly vocals, Hales might be best matched with The Zombies.
This is no consolation prize. For my money, The Zombies were the band that most effectively mixed artiness, atmosphere and approachability back in the '60s. And that's what Hales does now. Admittedly, he sometimes relies too much on those overfamiliar sonic trademarks of the movement--echoey piano, ticking time bomb rhythms, falsetto choruses--but he still manages to sound more intriguing and alive than his contemporaries.
Memory Man, his second major label release (no johnny come lately, he'd been doing the indie thing since the early 90s), is chock full of engagingly doleful tunes. While songs like "Cinderella," "Outside," "Black Hole," and "The Lake" tend to blur together in a lovely meander, Hales strikes gold when he departs from the Coldplay manifesto. With its low-key acoustic guitar, violin and accordion mix, "Glimmer" has an old world gypsy charm plus a great melody, while "Rolls So Deep" stir a bit of Beach Boys and Born To Run-era Bruce into epic emotional grandeur. The single "Pressure Suit," with its repeated confession of "I can't stop loving you" is an unabashed arena-sized anthem while the standout ballad, "Garden Of Love," is quietly intense, a moving meditation on a failed affair.
Whether this millenium's British Invasion will lead to a new Sgt. Pepper or Odessey & Oracle or merely become more fodder for hip TV commercials, I don't know. But if there's a masterpiece lurking in the movement, Aqualung might just be the one to make it.
Oh, and for those keeping score, in the opening scenario, James Blunt is Peter Noone. • Bill DeMain