Companionship (Legere Recordings)
It’s not for me to argue with The Persuaders - and I reckon Joel Sarakula would be as much a fan of their brocade vest-soul as I am and not argue either – but I think a rival for the thin line between love and hate is the micro-space between homage and pastiche, between respectful nod and low parody.
That’s why if in 2020 you’re making music that incorporates smooth ‘70s pop, smoother-still ‘70s soul, and the easy rhythm of ‘70s yacht rock, the first and probably second assumption made about you is that you’re not entirely serious. And if you do it with a recognition that it’s possible to have fun while in this territory, that even at its height this sound and this style could be witty as well as silky, then suspicions are doubled.
This would hold true even if you already had experienced the gilded years style of this European-based Australian, on really enjoyable satin pants and body shirt albums like 2013’s The Golden Age and 2018’s Love Club .
It’s like Sarakula has to keep confirming his intentions at each step, assuring us that he means it and he’s not just here for the musical equivalent of a quick fumble in the back of the Monaro. Which is unfair, I know, but hey, I don’t make the rules. Luckily then, Companionship plays its hand both very straight and very smoothly, with amusement and seriousness.
It’s a record which allows for a girl to be described as “a midnight driver” in a song that has the ride of a cushioned limo taking you to the coolest nightclub and the rhythm guitar of the nonchalantly hot band playing that very club, and for the news to be shared later in the album that “people are moving to the rhythm of the new day” and rhyme it with “when you join them we’ll fade away” in a song whose bassline positively aches for the swish of wide flares and the shade of an even wider hat.
The tres Chic guitar and bass of I’m Still Winning paired with pre-disco flute puts the emphasis on soulful rather than danceful but there’s still a delicious groove there, a little bit of strut even, and when the groove is goosed up for Reunion Island but somehow remains contained you realise that Sarakula is here for the elegant shapes not the sweaty effort.
That’s subtly emphasised on London Road which is all liquid rolls and Latinesque percussion, the flute here presaging a very old school synth sound that throws you back. And made even clearer by the smoothly pressed trousers of King Of Clowns which in one moment is a Michael McDonald vocal away from heaven, in another feels like it will break into I Can’t Tell You Why, and then it seems to hint (worryingly for me) at Supertramp, who I hear a bit also on Don’t Give Up On Me.
Luckily those last two things are aberrations. It is not a couple of Englishmen who crossed the Atlantic but a pair of New Yorkers who came to define a strand of LA, messrs Becker and Fagan, whose influence is the strongest on Companionship. That is, musical influence, for lyrically Sarakula is definitely straighter than the more outre moves of Steely Dan.
Don’t Give Up On Me and Game Of Spies end the album with light but unmistakeable variations of the carefully constructed Dan pop song: synths, guitars and bass entwined, backing vocals almost cooing, the melody quite old fashioned. It’s a neat package as Midnight Driver (more Gaucho) and Indigo Night (slightly more Can’t Buy A Thrill) had done something similar at the beginning, their white boy soul richly applied.
So, yes then, he’s serious.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Joel Sarakula - Companionship