JOEL SARAKULA The Imposter (Elevate)
Before getting into this rather glorious homage to/immersion in/revival of a decade’s music, it’s important to note that golden years were almost certainly never as golden as they are painted retrospectively.
Just as the music of the 1970s contained within it a shit-ton of shit music alongside some of the best ever made, let’s remember that Australian radio at that time was hardly what you would call golden – I’m talking here of commercial radio, which is what almost all people heard, not the original 2JJ.
In fact, it was narrow, white, conservative, scared of rock that wasn’t blokey and straight down the line, averse to dance except for the biggest hits of disco (and even then ditched them as quickly as possible when disco died), thought soul and funk was anathema at best, and would no more have dabbled in electronic and non-western music, outside novelty hits, than it would have given women more than a token voice on air.
So, when I say that The Imposter feels like someone has set up a 1970s radio, flicking between music stations and landing on song after song that you have a nagging sense you must know already, know that I’m talking about an idealised world of pop heaven.
But then that’s how expatriate Australian Joel Sarakula – who is a child of the ‘80s - wants to “remember” it, extending the soft rock/easy pop pleasures of his appropriately named The Golden Age, from 2013.
And it’s far better not to argue with him. After all, Sarakula’s memory is often enough faultless on the detail.
The Steely Dan groove of When The Summer Ends has a lightly funky bassline and soul-aware brass, a lead vocal a step back from direct emotion and backing voices tipped towards pretty.
To that frame is added extra warmth via harmony joy (and a nod to the organ hook from Happy Together) ala the Turtles in Hypnotised that end up a dreamy spin.
Northern Soul has the strings-and-sweetness, post-Motown insistent bass and euphoric chorus that is all Leeds allnighters at the height of northern soul, in a similar manner to how Children Of A Lesser Light does it. Though They Can’t Catch Me retains an echo of northern soul in its smooth pop rock, Stay (If You Need Me) glides like Al Green, complete with light brass rising, finessed guitar cruising and a sax solo so of its period it probably drinks Lindeman's.
While European Skies is soul-hinting-at-disco, Young Man’s Game could well have been the b-side to the Hues Corporation’s Rock The Boat: easy dance rhythm, shimmer in the backing vocals, a smooth instrumental breakdown that widens your flares, and the thought that this could go for another five minutes and you’d not notice even a bead of sweat.
The spectre of the Bee Gees – who were master reconstructors of contemporary sounds in their day - hangs over parts of The Imposter, including you could argue Young Man’s Game which feels like what the Gibbs were hearing before they wrote Jive Talkin’.
More clearly, their lightly psych, Beatles fan style is remembered in the harpsichordy Chelsea Gun and in the slender frame of Coralie, where Sarakula even affects a bit of a Robin Gibb in his singing.
It’s more straight out delicate pop, in the way of wistful-men-at-a-keyboard Gilbert O’Sullivan and Eric Carmen in the too beautiful to deny Happy Alone and the misty-eyed Another World Another Time, the two tracks which most resemble The Golden Age.
And it’s here where you are reminded that calling your album The Imposter when you dive into the past like this is not so much ballsy as a pre-emptive thumbing of the nose to the critics.
As a final note, this is an album with a tricky present/recent past. It was released in many countries in late 2015 and ostensibly in Australia in late 2016, though finding it is an exercise in itself. Ask at a good record store, not one of those chains, or go online, and it will come eventually.
The wait will be worth it if you like your pop with a bit of satin, a bit of velvet and a bit of flare.