CousteauX (Silent X Records)
When principal songwriter Davey Ray Moor left Cousteau after their emotionally cathartic, musically baroque, criminally under-recognised second album, Sirena, vocalist Liam McKahey and the band soldiered on for another record, his voice still the thing of wonder that seemed to define them.
However, Cousteau had lost the essence of that combination and friction which was what really at their core: the drama inherent in both McKahey’s voice and Moor’s writing and producing.
This was no mere dead end for some of us. Ok, for me.
It’s true that I like a bit – actually, a lot – of drama when it comes to my pop music: from chanson ala Barbara and the songs of Brel, through Scott Walker and David Bowie, to Kate Bush, Marc Almond and Tindersticks.
And Sirena, even more than its self-titled predecessor, which had the band’s best-known song, The Last Good Day Of The Year, did drama like Steve Smith does batting: effortlessly, flamboyantly, tellingly. It’s not one of the albums of this century for nothing.
Beyond the breakup, there were several low-key, but often very interesting, solo/side projects for the principals, before McKahey (an Irishman who relocated to Australia after the band broke up) and Moor (an Australian who had relocated to the UK years earlier) recreated that partnership in this curiously named semi-reformation Cousteau X.
Slightly awkward name aside, does this live up to the two-decades love? Yes, it does.
McKahey’s voice is still big in the depths, soaring in the heights and rock steady and emotive on the flatlands. It’s one of those instruments that would have made grown men cry in a smoky Left Bank café, pinned patrons to the wall in a Vegas showroom or swung the lead in some adult cabaret pop show.
In BURMA there’s vulnerability and yearning, in Portobello Serenade elegance reigns against muted trumpet, and while Seasons Of You eases in some Jack Jones swing, the gloriously titled Fucking In Joy And Sorrow gives him room to demand and beg simultaneously.
Around McKahey once again are strings, Moor’s brass and piano, and a chamber rock band that can both drive hard, or sit beneath in controlled cruise mode. With Moor’s gentler voice in backing sometimes, lighter elements in the mix, and restraint at the controls, there’s rarely any suggestion of heaviness either, without ever giving away the chance to punch holes.
That’s why Maybe You, which is pretty much piano, voice and cello-turning-to-bass, holds the centre of the album with a kind of restrained anguish that hits all the harder for it. But also why the gallantly florid Memory Is A Weapon, is perfect to open the record with its increasingly potent waves of sound and emotion loosening their bindings.
But does it take them somewhere new as well? Yes, it does.
If Shelter feels pre-rock and Seasons Of You is a kind of knowing nod to Bacharach-ian days past, Thin Red Lines roughens guitars in the background of an urgent delivery, The Innermost Light, with its parping brass and glistening background takes on a kind of Italian horror movie soundtrack edge, and This Might Be Love switches to the kind of warm-to-the-touch ballad that could sneak in on afternoon radio, mid-evening TV drama or Sunday morning classic hits atmosphere.
Yeah, it’s good this album. You may have to work a little bit harder to find in your shops (ask them to order it in, find a better store, or get online) but Messrs McKahey and Moor are the suited gentlemen who can reward the effort.
Put it this way, it can at least share the same room as Sirena, and around these parts that’s saying plenty.