- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Starsailor

Silence Is Easy

Capitol Records

On the wide-shot cover of Starsailor’s “Silence is Easy,” the Brit-pop quartet stands four in a row. Everyone’s posing normally, except for the guy second from the left, who’s doing that unmistakable spread-armed semaphore John Lennon used to form the “E” of the Beatles’ “Help” cover.

Exhibit No. 2: Casually credited in the liner notes is Phil Spector for his production of two songs, the title track and a chamber ballad, “White Doves.”

The Wall of Sound maestro’s work was done shortly before the incident at the mansion, and he was reportedly so eccentric and domineering during the recording that the band cut him loose. (It paid him the backhanded compliment, though, of making the rest of the highly-orchestrated “Silence” sound like a Phil Spector album.)

So, is Starsailor a posse of aspiring Beatlemaniacs? Another Oasis that managed to make an unlikely, in-the-flesh connection to the Fab Four through the hitherto retired Phil Spector?

In spirit, maybe, but not necessarily in structure.

Popular in England but virtual unknowns here in the States, Starsailor picks up the post-Oasis trail of British pop rock as trod by the Verve, Travis, Doves and Coldplay. The emphasis is on melody, and singer-guitarist James Walsh has an undeniable knack for producing pleasant hooks.

The songs and all their daffy lyrics are shot through with exuberance and joy-charged naivete. There are expressions all over the place of life as a carnival, love as a safekeeper, sunshine and ringing bells. Propelled by a marching 4/4 backbeat, the album-opener “Music Was Saved” is infectiously optimistic.

What Mr. Walsh lacks is the ability to sell dread. He often searches for the Thom Yorkean snarl and comes up empty every time. Even when he tries to do melancholy, as on “Shark Food,” on which Mr. Walsh worries about being shred to the bottom of the food chain, he never sounds threatened for a second.

Where songs such as “Fidelity” are supposed to brood, Mr. Walsh’s gears are stuck on fey choirboy. On the oversold cartoon pop of “Bring My Love” and the schmaltzy disco “Four to the Floor,” he flirts with David Cassidy bathos.

Starsailor took its name from an album by the late Tim Buckley (father of the late Jeff Buckley), a critical favorite of the early-‘70s California folk scene. When the band sticks to that form of basic, acoustic-flavored rock, such as “Some of Us” and “Born Again,” “Silence” is hard not to like.

It’s when that darned Wall of Pop Orchestration (whether from Mr. Spector or producer Danton Supple) rears its grandiose head that the album starts to feel overheated. Combined with Mr. Walsh’s vocal bravado, it’s too much.

Two tracks included here as bonuses for U.S. buyers — “Could You be Mine?” and “At the End of a Show” — seem unfinished relative to the meat of the original LP. Yet, in their simplicity and bareness, they’re among the strongest tracks of the set.

Heck, the latter even boasts a harmonica solo.

Regarding violas and cellos and violins, a rock band needs to know when to say when.

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