A short while back, I had Boulevard's Octane Lovers single to review. In the review I made much of the song and the band's similarity to Suede and their single Trash. Though well played and well produced, it was an aural image I just couldn't shake.
How surprised was I, then, to receive an e-mail from principal songwriter and singer Benji Barton with the offer of a copy of the EP Signal from which Octane Lovers sprang. I initially thought, when the e-mail arrived and was yet to be read, that he was about to verbally kick me in the head, so the offer of the whole EP was a welcome one.
The opening track, Boundless, is an energetic and very pleasant entrée. I'll also say this upfront: it doesn't sound like Suede. British, yes (even though Boulevard are most definitely American), but not in the slightest like Anderson and Co. In fact, there's more in common with the quirky pop of Pulp here than with Suede.
Short, punchy, melodic and catchy, Boundless deserves to have been a single far more than the following track, the aforementioned Octane Lovers. On another listen, I can still only say "listen to Suede's Trash and you'll have a very good idea of the song". Still, it fits with the ethos generated thus far on the EP.
Track three, Crazy Morning Mirror, has yet more Brit-pop leanings, again with some Suede-esque overtones. It is, however, generally OK, if a little bland. This was the B-side to Octane Lovers and did nothing during my previous review to draw me away from the comparisons I made then.
When I Lost You There continues the British feel (this must be intentional, surely?) and there's nothing wrong with that, dear reader. If legions of youths from the grim depths of urban Britain can pump out R'n'B and/or rap in an effort to sound as if they're from the Bronx, then Boulevard are entirely entitled to use pop from this island as a base for their material. When I Lost You There, incidentally, is a fairly well thought out song, with a good acoustic guitar interlude.
Here's To The Days plods a bit for my money and sounds a little contrived in comparison to the rest of the EP. I fear Benji Barton needed a filler track, and seems to have hit upon the formula for just that. I'll bet next month's special brain medicine money that this song never sees the light of day as far as live performances go. The whole band sounds relieved just to get to the end.
Closing song The Shroud is more like it; moody piano and a catchy hook of a chorus. Benji and the boys and girls might have been better served by keeping the EP down to five tracks, jettisoning Here's To The Days.
Overall, Signal is a good outing for Boulevard, and one that most bands of the same ilk would be happy to have under their collective belt. As with the Octane Lovers single, the songs are immaculately performed and very well produced (by the band and Tom Lewis), with young Mr Barton writing all of the material. Although there really is nothing wrong with any of the tracks here, I can't help thinking that Ben has yet to write the killer Boulevard song. He's getting there, though; the pattern is unmistakable from the collection of songs here.
Ben, if you're reading this, I think it was brave in the extreme to send a copy of Signal to a reviewer who had been less than glowing about Octane Lovers. I'm glad you did, though, as I'm fairly certain that you and the band are not far from breaking through.
When you do, of course, my copy of Signal and the hand-written note will go straight onto eBay for a pornographic sum of money.