Prolific Montreal scenester doesn't always hit the heights
Lanky hip blond Sean Nicholas Savage can easily be summarised as ‘Ariel Blue’. Master of the slightly scary genres of soft rock, faux funk and cod reggae, he rides this chilling wave with a very now mix of irony and genuine celebration. He’s mad prolific: three albums in 2011 alone, about nine in the past few years, depending on how you count. And it’s easy to see why: none of his work is exactly rich in detailed brushstrokes. In Montreal, a city now heaving with similar lo-fi art-pop projects, he is grandaddy to the scene. Earlier this year pals like Doldrums and Mac DeMarco got together to record a tribute album, ‘Taste Of Savage: His Pupils Sing His Music’.
People only bother to make covers albums of your stuff if you’re all about songcraft, and that’s where Savage is often dazzling. Had you taken something like ‘We Used To Live In A Dream’ and offered it to ’80s pop star Tiffany, it almost certainly would’ve been one of the bigger minor hits of 1987. ‘She Looks Like You’ sounds like Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ in that it captures that same tone of wounded defiance in a way that few have since. ‘It’s Real’ pulls in the arty camp drama of Marc Almond.
Between the highs, ‘Other Life’ is blighted by two afflictions. The first is pace. Whereas the acoustic guitars on 2011’s ‘Flamingo’ gave it a sense of motion that didn’t allow you to question its kitsch, ‘Other Life’ can get lost in its own tropicalia keyboard wash. The second is Savage’s voice: one of recent history’s more eccentric deliveries, a reedy tone somewhere between Color Me Badd and Christopher Owens. Where the songs are slow, the fruity Bontempi keyboards are gruelling and the singing comes on like Jimmy Somerville weeping over a dead pet in a marbled mausoleum. But get past the Bronski Beat animal trauma vibes and Savage’s other life is rich and full.