Fred Abbott’s debut solo album ‘Serious Poke’ marks the first outing for any of the ‘Noah and The Whale’ bunch since their break-up. Leaving the London folk scene way behind, this effort sounds like it’s straight out of the heartlands of the USA, as the guitarist/keyboard player searches for his own voice away from Charlie Fink and co.
The opener ‘Adrenaline Shot’ races by, with powerful, crunchy chords forming the main riff. It sounds like Abbott’s best Springsteen impression, as he opens with the line “It’s 4am in the parking lot…”. Parking-lot does sound a lot better than car-park, granted… but I’m not so sure about Abbott’s adoption of a second nationality on this record. His twangy U.S accent make his vocals come across as forced. How long can the man have spent in New Jersey since his band broke up!? Not long enough to pick up an accent! Of course British singers have forever been found sliding towards a U.S accent in their vocals. Abbott’s former collaborator ‘Laura Marling’ for one does so several times on her latest record ‘Short Movie’ and somehow manages to own it. But throughout ‘Serious Poke’, his US-lilt is noticeably poor. It does not come across like, say, ‘Bob Dylan’ taking on a crooning country-voice for Nashville Skyline. It seems contrived. Imagine for a second if a singer-songwriter from the States suddenly adopted an ‘Alex Turner’ or ‘David Bowie’ accent when they sang. People would (quite rightly) ask “what the hell are they doing!?”
As well as the vocal, the song-writing emulates that classic ‘Merican sound. Lyrically, nods towards the likes of ‘Springsteen’ and ‘Waits’ continue, as ‘Awake’ begins – “Well the fog came down on a seaside town/we missed the last train/and it started to rain/I was tired as hell/a little drunk as well…”. In the recording, Abbott owes more to the likes of ‘The Cars’ and ‘Tom Petty’ with the high vocal harmonies that form the hooks on ‘One Hot Night’, ‘Learn About Love’ and ‘Funny How Good It Feels’, the guitar solo on the latter reminiscent of the outro on Petty’s ‘American Girl’.
It is clear from Hollywood, with its pulsing keyboards and power-chords that a classic U.S.A brand rock sound is very much what Abbott is aiming for, as he sets out to transport us to the boulevards and highways of the States, and references the “vintage Rolls-Royce” on the album cover. Bearing this in mind, if we let my earlier gripe with Abbott’s singing style go and call it an affectation performed for the purposes of the album’s sound, there is still something problematic about this collection of songs. I am down with the idea of tributing and putting your own spin on an established, classic sound. Unfortunately, ‘Serious Poke’ only succeeds on one of these counts, as the album fails to bring the classic-US rock sound into 2015. We’ve all heard of albums ahead of their time. This seems like a reversal of that idea.
Abbott does go some way to compensating for what ‘Serious Poke’ lacks in ability to find its own voice. It has to be said, the guitars sound fantastic, achieving both a meatiness and a clarity in tone. You may well find yourself blasting the feel good opening duo of ‘Adrenaline Shot’ and ‘Funny How Good It Feels’ in your car on a Summer day. Hollywood has a hint of ‘Tonight Is The Kind of Night’ by Abbott’s former band about it. Maybe it’s the hit they never had, but Abbott will. Elsewhere the strings and organ over slow building piano melodies on the album’s closing tracks ‘Still Told A Lie’ and ‘Lucky People’ are a pretty and more subtle way to end Abbott’s solo debut.
Serious Poke’s crucial flaw, is it does not become something of its own. Rather, it is a fairly decent tribute to 70’s/80s rock n roll from the US. Several melodies plod along in a similar fashion, making them fairly indistinguishable from one another. But there are catchy melodies, decent riffs as well as plenty of sweet sounding guitar solos to be found. Ultimately, it is a far from an unenjoyable experience…but a largely forgettable one.
The full track-listing for ‘Serious Poke’ is as follows…