Adventures in Ausland
James Cook is a focussed, determined, acerbic character. Adventures in Ausland is very much a ‘head’ album (as opposed to ‘heart’), full of canny modern life, wryly observed, intelligent vignettes...deeply couched, thankfully, in tunes.
Cook comes across in his full on, luridly careful presentation as some bastard hybrid of Benedict Cumberbatch and Joe Strummer – but, crucially, with his heart firmly in the right place. The violin introducing the sublime “Lilly (A Lover’s Dream)” is genuinely moving, sweeping the urban Casanova along in its blurry, “For Tomorrow” wake, and making him question his blue steel approach to affairs of the heart.
The booted and be-suited songwriter certainly has a way with perfectly crafted chamber pop. Ed Harcourt, Rufus Wainwright, The Divine Comedy and My Life Story are all listening carefully, and if not they certainly should be. The Mariachi gallop of “Financial Tango” reflects on the timely subject of 'bank rape' and the 1%, whilst somehow making you smile (angrily) with its winking glint.
Adventures in Ausland, with its themes of travel and otherness, is also a very under-produced album – which in the mature-pop pantheon, is a very refreshing thing. It sounds like the band is all there, scratchiness and echo, spontaneity intact. It feels like Cook is no friend of auto-tune, or any other effects for that matter – and this aesthetic lends these ten songs a soul all of its own. Cook’s voice is also extremely unpretentious, belying the Holmes/Dr Who image manfully.
Album highlight to this hack is the spiky, terrific, violin-as-weapon, better-than-the-Buzzcocks “Art Deco,” reading like a chapter from All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace sung by Adam Ant speeding along with prime time Supergrass. It’s getting ready to go out while having a good THINK - music of the first order.
Props must also go to “Dog Arms & Dilemmas” for song title of the year. So nice one Mr Cook, you are spoiling us. “How come we lost our way?” Many have - but not you, not yet.
By Sean Bw Parker