London King’s Cross Water Rats

At least they've admitted who they are this time....

AT LEAST THEY’VE ADMITTED WHO they are this time. For their debut album, ‘Down By The Old Mainstream’, American power-pop all-stars Golden Smog were contractually forced to hide behind a colourful array of soubriquets. With ‘Weird Tales’, though, the story can finally be told.

Here we have a Big Star (Jody Stephens), two Jayhawks (Gary Louris and Marc Perlman) and members of Soul Asylum, Run Westy Run and Wilco sharing a six-pack of beer and a few teary tales in a Memphis studio and sounding rather joyful. Their record oozes the professionalism inherent in a band with such an abundance of first-rate country-pop songwriters, but also sounds like a group of musicians stretching out and playing the kind of rigidly uncommercial pop music their evil corporate bosses could never allow.

Like the work of the slightly more majestic Matthew Sweet, ‘Weird Tales’ is a continuation of the pop ley-line that links The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub and Eels. In an age where the American underground is struggling to break free from the shackles of its history with the genre-bending works of Beck, Sparklehorse and the myriad sub-sections of Tortoise, Golden Smog’s plaintive ballads and pop-ist frenzies offer a return to backwoods basics. It means ‘Weird Tales’ is an old-fashioned, guitar pop record which reminds you how good such things can be.

Pretty much your standard ranch stash then, but there’s nothing wrong with that.