Would-Be-Goods – Brief Lives

Brief Lives

Their third album of blissfully self-assured pop narratives (and first since 1993), the Would-Be-Goods again pick at the mantle largely vacated by songwriters like Ray Davies and Morrisey and dive headlong into a varied and vigorous set of songs rooted in whimsical mystery. Not that there aren’t more than enough entrants to that hallowed, patently British school, of songwriting, but few truly capture the charm and grace of the masters of that genre as the Would-Be-Goods. Although having roots in the 1980’s and the now deceased el label, the Would-Be-Goods lived on in the memories of their fans (many of which were curiously located in Japan) and on their out-of-print recordings, only returning to the scene in the spring of 2001. With lead vocalist Jessica Griffin’s vocals still lined with intrigue and intonation, guitarist Peter Momtchiloff’s (of seminal twee-popsters Heavenly) perfectly glistening guitar lines creating just the right emotional ether for the narrative drama, and the songs falling like rapid fire short stories, these entries hit as hard as they did in their heyday and on just as many different levels.
From the opening shifting chord changes of “Mystery Jones” to the quieting vibraphone touches of “Fancy Man,” characters are caught in various stages of awkwardness and uncertainty, paired with a melodic sensibility that serves as a sonic receipt that makes sure that the storyline will unfold in your head as you hum the words for days afterward. Case in point, the big rolling piano grooves of “Richard III” or the sing-songy folksiness of “1999” are songs that little need the curiosity of their storylines to worm their way into your mind. Further, as sad swirling strings balance the effervescent early-Beatles energy of tracks like “Flashman” and “Dilettante,” the songwriting never becomes redundant and displays a mastery of the addition and subtraction of the right elements.
Just as powerful when reduced to the basic elements of guitar and voice, the gorgeously lilting “Esperanza” finds a strange earnestness, and the mournful guitar and mandolin of “Whitsun Bride” are beautifully compact windows into the lives of desperate characters. Whether depicting hopeful lovers in the softly swinging “Butterfly Kiss” or breaking into French to hold the rhyme scheme of the lonely artist vignette in “Diminuendo,” Griffin’s tales unfold with delicacy and great attention to detail, drawing you in with melody and wit. More than anything, though, Griffin’s songwriting is recognizable for its deeply mysterious melodies, constantly bending and shifting around minor chord changes and drawing the listener in with the inherent sadness of the characters dwelling inside her songs.
In short, you’d be hard pressed to find a better guitar-pop album released this year. Even if it ultimately breaks little new ground, the songs are nearly perfect entries into the classic pop canon and genuinely create an environment where listeners can lose themselves in a catchy narrative. Everything lines up exceedingly well – a near perfect marriage of lyric, melody, and aesthetic. As such, the 16 tracks cover enough territory that repeated listens are nearly obligatory to truly capture the totality of content encoded in each song.