One of my favourite Homer Simpson rants is an impassioned defence of second-tier jeans manufacturers; ” I take my stand with all those brave men who leapt into an overcrowded market, shouting ‘Me, too!'” He’d like The Scholars, who despite many strengths, are emphatically a Me Too band, sounding, alternately, exactly like Interpol, Killers, Editors (they even have a song named after a German city!), Coldplay and probably any other band with a one-word name.
The derivative nature of most of their debut album, ‘Turbulence’ is their most serious weakness, but one which I hope and expect they will grow out of. After all, Radiohead started out as a dodgy bunch of U2-apers, until they found their own voice. So long as the Scholars see ‘Turbulence’ as a departure-point rather than a final destination, they may have a bright future.
Certainly, there is lots to build on. The first impression is that the production values are very much at the high end and that certain songs have a natural home on daytime Radio 1. For example, despite the suspiciously-familar intro, it would be unfair to class ‘This Heart’s Built to Break’ as just an Editors B-side (aside from the fact that with the exception of ‘Munich’, Editors don’t have any A-sides), as it has a good big tune and doesn’t annoy you with moronic lines such as ‘You don’t need this disease, not like that’. Adrian Gillet is a pretty good singer, whose strengths lie in clarity and diction rather than power or dexterity, but like the band in general, he is too much beholden to his influences: the idea that he is Paul Banks of Interpol or Tom Smith of Editors or Brandon Flowers of the Killers rolled into one creates a very strange affectation that generates an almost comical effect. On ‘The Pathway’, for example, he has fallen into an absurdly arch delivery of the verses, like Neil Tennant fronting Coldplay. If the lyrics had a trace of irony or wit it might just work, but they are mostly clumsy singer-songwriter pap:
“Broken dreams lie next to me, their hope left on the floor
I’ll help you up, my friend, and build your courage more”
Gillet is a good deal better elsewhere, to be fair. The opener ‘Birth’ is a pretty refrain in the style of Interpol’s ‘Next Exit’, a repeating four-chord vamp which builds satisfyingly from spacey synthesiser chords, incorporating a cute guitar pick and impassioned singing. The more acoustic ‘Mousetrap’ is Gillet’s best vocal performance, and perhaps not uncoincidentally, sees the band putting some clear blue water between themselves and their previously-mentioned post-punk heroes (although there is a slight resemblance to Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’). ‘Dortmund’ sees the Scholars treading on Coldplay’s toes; the song is put together beautifully, with perfectly-placed organ, synth washes and even the odd bit of rocking-out at the end, but the two main charges stand; the songwriting hasn’t found a home to call its own and Gillet sings as if he has need of surgical removal of a root vegetable from a painful place.
Not wanting to end on a bummer, The Scholars have made an extremely polished, often very pretty record (as an added example, check the glorious harmonies on the chorus of ‘Only You’). Their next tasks include trying to find a more original musical palette, to cut out the adolescent awkwardness of most of the lyrics, and get their potentially-fine singer to take a chill pill. Let’s face it, Paul Banks ain’t all that.