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The Poems - Young America - Indie

04 October 2006
Daniel Ross

With a line-up healthily reminiscent of Scottish pop of yore whilst entirely indicative of a new heritage being created, The Poems are an odd hybrid of vintage and modern pop. Boasting contributions from Isobel Campbell and Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub, as well as alumni from Del Amitri and The Proclaimers, 'Young America' is a record that is extremely aware of its origins and the rich history of the Scottish pop back-catalogue.

Enough contextual rubbish. We don't need it, because 'Young America' is a noble and engaging pop record containing all the hallmarks of the works it is emulating. There is a tremendous bitterness that rears its head on 'So Soon', arriving the moment we hear the cooed line 'don't go taking us for granted, we will break your heart'. According to pop music rules, such venom can only be placed against the sweetest and simplest of melodies, lilting carefully along like The Byrds with an angry itch. And while it does seem to be an odd juxtaposition of Belle & Sebastian's lyrical spirals and Camera Obscura's girly cinematic widescreen melodies, it manages to be something different to both in its own right.

While Poems ringleader Roger Hodgens may give us the worn duality of eminent sparkle with his melodies and deathly sadness with his words, there is no doubting the skewed nature of 'Young America'. It wallows in adolescence, but taken at that point towards the weary end when soul music can explain it all. The class and pedigree of the contributions here are testament to Hodgens' own prowess with creating visions and scenarios concurrent with what one remembers from childhood. It is a uniquely British talent to unearth these, one saccharinely celebrated here in the only way the Brits know how - beautifully orchestrated breeze-pop that sounds nowhere near as depressed as it actually is. 'Ballad Of A Bitter End' forms the centrepiece of 'Young America', a woozy and echo-laden deconstruction of the end of a relationship. 'If this is love, it hangs in doubt...' comes the sage-like warning over cheeky French horns and the promise of redemption. It is emotional power and stony-faced poise balanced for the sole purpose of pop music - the way every pop song should be written.

This ability to construct instantly verifiable gems lends 'Young America' a class not often heard outside the holy trinity of Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub and Camera Obscura. They have created something endlessly listenable but also rather affecting in its wearied and weathered outlook. A beacon for all Scottish pop with hearts and minds placed in equal share.

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