Alfie : A Word In Your Ear

Manc folksters' over-egged debut...

Yes, it was all city round these parts when Alfie were lads. The Manchester

music tradition they were brought up in was, for the most part, resolutely

urban: one of power, corruption and lies; panic in the streets; and, most

notoriously, 24-hour party people. But the whimsical and beguiling idea

behind Alfie is to take all that swagger and attitude off the streets and

onto the moors, a tacit acknowledgement that being off your face can be a

lot more enjoyable in a field than in a club.

Quite a lot of this debut album, then, resembles a soundtrack to the first

annual Hacienda Veterans’ nature ramble. Expensive kagoules are, of course,

compulsory, while appearing to make an effort is largely forbidden. Hence

much of ‘A Word In Your Ear’ sounds phenomenally lackadaisical. The closest

comparison is to a rustic Charlatans, and not just because of Lee Gorton’s

very good cheekbones and woozy, lisping way round a song. Like The Charlatans

(or label boss Badly Drawn Boy at his most infuriating), Alfie sometimes

only manage to write half a tune before becoming distracted: by a large

bumblebee, perhaps; or an excitingly devious breeze.

Unlike their early singles, though, a bigger budget and a bit of ambition

effectively cover up the cracks in the songwriting. Just when ‘Not Half’

looks about to give up completely, a Dixieland jazz band turn up to propel

it along past the three-minute mark. And there are hints that, for all

the Beach-Boys-meet-‘Bagpuss’ reveries, the ‘folk baggy’ tag is starting

to irritate. Despite its Enid Blyton-esque title, ‘Summer Lanes’ belts

along with considerably more purpose than usual, even if the speed is

more rusty push-iron than Porsche, while the title track is a decent if

obvious attempt at the kind of woody fantasia achieved by Jim O’Rourke

on ‘Women Of The World’. [I]”C’mon lazy, move yourself,”[/I] announces

Gorton during ‘The Reverse Midas Touch’, and frankly, you can see his point.

For the lasting impression is of an album that’s inevitably rather nice,

and inevitably rather frustrating, too. It does seem churlish to expect

a debut of real substance from a band whose entire charm is derived

from their featherlight, elusive [I]lack[/I] of substance. But that’s

the problem here: like an exceptionally well-turned cloud, ‘A Word In Your Ear’

is very pretty to contemplate while it’s around, and yet largely

unmemorable when it’s gone. Unlike most bands, maybe Alfie really

should get out less.

John Mulvey