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Goodbye Charlie Moonhead
Goodbye Charlie Moonhead confirms and continues the rehabilitation of Aslan started by the excellent ‘Crazy World’
Jackie Hayden, 19 Oct 1994
If you’re looking for an album to change the face of popular music or to lead us into the third millennium, then you’ve come to the wrong shop. If, however, you are in need of a snappy collection of fine tunes played by a band oozing so much confidence that it will even bring a smile to your hi-fi speakers, then please form an orderly queue over there.
Goodbye Charlie Moonhead confirms and continues the rehabilitation of Aslan started by the excellent ‘Crazy World’, and it’s clean uncluttered production allows it to exude such a feeling of exuberance, even in the sad songs, that you’ll want to sing along with most tracks almost on first hearing and BMG should’ve supplied football scarves with it!
Aslan on record have rarely been a band of wild rock abandon, but this time out the barely restrained energy adds to the dynamic tension and underpins the listening pleasure as the band bubbles and boils beneath Christy Dignam’s controlled, bittersweet, impassioned vocals.
Of course, the unsurprising inclusion of the two finely-wrought singles ‘Crazy World’ and ‘Where’s The Sun’ add much to the record’s instant accessibility. That may turn out to have been a wise move, since Chris O’Brien’s production has lent an overall polish and sheen to the band’s natural sound that might lose some of their hard-boiled rockist fans. But in an age when the edges between quality pop and rock are becoming ever more blurred, that should present few problems to a band whose instinctive sense of quality virtually transcends such simplistic pigeon-holing.
The use of percussion throughout is masterful, particularly on ‘Dreaming Of Dreams’, a track redolent of the mysteries of the East (and we’re not talking Finglas East here). Its hypnotic intro sets you up for a Peter Gabriel vocal but Dignam’s voice takes it to another dimension altogether. The opener ‘Games’ features another battery of menacing drums as it builds into a track that establishes the perfect mood for the rest of the album.
The heavily Sting-influenced ‘Rainman’ soon buzzes nicely into view and before you can say ‘classic hits’ it’s down on its knees in ‘please-release-me-as-a-single-Freddie’ mode. The title track offers vocal chorus harmonies that would not have disgraced Crosby, Stills and Nash and ‘Sweet Time’ nags along like the hangover of its subject matter, ZZ Top guitars an’all.
The soulful, scarf-waving, hand-holding, show-stopping slow ballad ‘This Time’ would have graced the canon of John Lennon and the final track ‘She Said So’ sees the band letting down as much hair as they have, as they genuinely play as an ensemble rather than just making a record.
If percussion-discussionists are in for a treat, guitar fans won’t be disappointed either – there’s some sprightly and subtle playing sprinkled throughout the album. But it’s a real and rare pleasure to hear a band whose musicians avoid the temptation to turn every song into a mere instrumental work-out with vocal accompaniment.
Although Aslan are unlikely ever to win awards for their lyrical profundity, they consistently write songs that are grounded in the real world, and it’s no mean feat to imbue such a sparkling collection of basic pop-rock songs with references to alcohol, safe sex, insanity, disillusion, poverty and religion and make it all seem perfectly natural and heartfelt.
One might have wished for a little more experimentation, the occasional risk or a couple of ape-shit tracks, but given that Aslan’s comeback from the dead has been the most remarkable for well over two thousand years, Goodbye Charlie Moonhead is one hell of a way to celebrate it. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for the next one.
• Jackie Hayden