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New Album! Bleu

I was an instant fan of Bleu’s first commercial album Redhead; although it came out early in the year I predicted that it would be tough to top as the year’s best and indeed found it placed atop my Best of 2003 list. And although I enjoyed the reissue of his regional debut Headroom and the Alpacas Orgling album that his pop supergroup L.E.O. issued, they weren’t as strong. Even the highly anticipated Major Labels band (with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle) seemed to be missing the fire and with A Watched Pot Bleu seemed to be going against his own instincts to create music that would fit a more vanilla format.

So he decided to strip it all down and use Kickstarter to raise funds for a new project where he could follow his own muse and not the expectations of others.

Bingo.

Here’s my review from the current issue of Bucketful Of Brains

“Just when you think it was a waste of time / you come to find / everything was fine”.

For his aptly titled fourth album, Bleu McCauley embraced the new paradigm by choice (or by necessity) and turned to his fan base to help raise the funds to record and release the album. Perhaps it was the artistic freedom, perhaps it was the pressure to deliver, But Four is head and shoulders better than last year’s disappointing A Watched Pot. On that album it seemed as if Bleu was trying to craft radio hits to fit a more vanilla format. Here he’s relaxed and confident, and as a result the songs are vessels for his talent rather than adverts for his pop skills.

Back is the energy and passion he displayed on his astounding Redhead album, tempered by experience. What we have here is a more mature, but still exuberant, songwriter who can’t help writing ear candy, even able to get away with lyrics like “don’t ever think your shit don’t stink, ’cause everybody’s does“. Working again with producer Ducky Carlisle, the slower songs sound anthemic and the uptempo tunes jump out of the speakers. And my god…that voice! His theatrical and expressive voice can nail a slower tune; “Ya Catch More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar” flaunts his falsetto while “I’m In Love With My Lover”, a slowly simmering soul ballad, has Van Morrison written all over it.

Perhaps the uncertainty in musical direction gave cause for Bleu to think of his mortality – he sings about leaping out of the casket in “B.O.S.T.O.N.”, but even that pales in comparison to the horn-laden gospel rave-up “I’ll Be Dead In The Morning”. But Four is anything but a downer; the gauntlet thrown down in the kinetic opener “Singin’ In Tongues” gets an aptly upbeat answer in the closing track “Everything is Fine”, featuring Roger Joseph Manning.

Well, the advertised closing track, anyway – as usual, Bleu hides a gem at the end. This time it’s the 70s-ish “My Own Personal Jesus”, sure to get those glowing cell phone screens waving back and forth at concerts.

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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