The 88 – This Must Be Love

The 88 - This Must Be Love

They didn’t just fall out of the sky, The 88. Ever since their first release, 2003’s Kind Of Light, the Los Angeles quartet has been fine tuning their quirky, verging on anthemic west coast pop sound, and unlike many of their contemporaries have chosen to downplay the edgier side of the late 60s/early 70s style they emulate, choosing to concentrate on actual songwriting rather than just celebrate the idea of what a certain type of AOR album sounds like, both then and now.

Because it is quite some way beyond question that the shadows of both John Lennon and Harry Nilsson cast themselves significantly across the thirteen tracks on This Must Be Love: Lennon in the sound of the album and Nilsson in at least some of the songwriting. Heck, it even sounds as if it was produced by a soberly on-form Phil Spector, utilising a state-of-the-art 16 track analogue desk, the drums carrying just enough foldback and Claptonesque guitar riffs wailing off at an assortment of stereophonic tangents. This Must Be Love is an album crafted with quite real skill and an attention to detail that suggests the band and their producers have spent much of their waking lives immersed in recreating the exact musical sounds of four decades ago, ignoring anything recorded after 1974. If you ever took time to listen to anything Anton Newcombe recorded, you will probably find something to interest you in the work of The 88.

But if there’s one musical icon whose reputation has taken a serious pounding over the last few years, that is quite definitely, even defiantly, Lennon: and does anyone ever sing along when Nilsson’s “Without You” turns up on the AM oldies channel? The 88 keep things resolutely lightweight throughout, avoiding histrionics or actual shouting, and presenting us with an album that wouldn’t sound out of place were its production date 1971 instead of 2009. So, first track “Go To Heaven” starts off with a jaunty keyboard riff reminiscent of Ben Folds and a grimly cheerful lyric; “went to hell in my Sunday clothes / fell asleep with a bloody nose”, but none of The 88 seem very much the worse for this experience, and this song and much of the rest of the album foot taps along at an uptempo country rock pace, regardless of the assorted existential crises the lyrics speak of, and listeners are invited to play ‘spot the Lennon album reference’ throughout. “Bad Love” borrows the string section from “Walls And Bridges”, the title track has the confident swagger of an outtake from Rock ‘N’ Roll, and “Love Is The Thing” is reminiscent of a song deemed insufficently radical for the Sometime In New York City sessions. As the album progresses though, the tempo slows and The 88’s own skills as songwriters come to the fore, with quite some effect on “Let Me Go” and the epic finality of album closer “Who Is This”.

If all this sounds like the work of one of those Fab Four tribute bands whose shows you never quite got round to seeing, then I apologise, both to The 88 themselves and you, the DOA reader. This Must Be Love is every inch the literate exercise in songwriting that the band set out to record, and while they aren’t perhaps the best known names outside of the LA muso circuits, they are providing support for former Kinks frontman and definite candidate for ‘greatest living English songwriter’ Ray Davies on his US tour this spring, and I suppose that means The 88 are really quite good then. Find a copy of This Must Be Love and you may just find that you agree.