The genres of pop and rock have always seemed worlds apart to many, fans and writers alike. Both are awash with cliché’s and self imposed boundaries. The immediacy and dance beat jaunt of modern pop seems alien to the purveyors of the seemingly more serious rock product, and vice versa. However there have been some successful attempts over the years to combine the two, one that stands out for me is Liverpool’s finest, namely the Icicle Works a band able to mix and miss-match the two to wonderful affect. The appeal of the Refugees album, LoveJunk, seems also to lie in this marriage of pop sensibilities and rock attitude as well as calling on a wide range of influences in between.
The Refugees is one of many musical vehicles, of no fixed line up, for David Marx, a man that I first saw playing all those years ago with a previous musical incarnation, The Coincidence, and immediately become a fan. A punk past, an ear for great melody and hook line and the ability to create great songs from a melting pot of influences is the path that has lead ultimately to this album.
The opening salvo comes in the form of ‘Guillotine Gene’, a song that not only distils and delivers everything I have waffled on about in the opening paragraph, but one that also suggests an English hybrid of Mike Scott and Bruce Springsteen, and that can’t be a bad thing. Whilst the closing chords of that song are still ringing in your ears Kat Evens infectious violin hook is whisking us headlong and relentlessly into ‘The Girl with the Child in her Arms’. Often associated heavily with the finger in the ear, Arran sweater clad, beardy folk scene, on the album the violin is used to greater effect and instead of hi-jacking the music and dragging it into a more conventionally Fairport realm, instead adds to the accessibility of the music with its mix of repetitive hooks and soothing long drawn notes weaving through the melody. Even the use of banjo and accordion, the latter supplied by Barry Andrews on ‘Mirror Mirror’ doesn’t feel out of place along side the rawer guitar orientated songs. The songs here are more than strong enough to maintain their identity no matter what instruments are employed without the album sounding an thing less than a complete and totally connected body of work. Less experienced musicians could have ended up with a disparate mish-mash of songs that don’t sit well alongside each other, but Marx seems to have the ability to draw on a wide range of ideas and influences and still sound like a unified and focused project.
Lyrically there is a lot at work here too. The seemingly throwaway lines, the tongue in cheek humour and the cultural name-dropping are much cleverer than they first appear. Although the usual subjects are covered of love, loss and everything in between, the stories and ideas presented are a world away from the usual dross commentary we get from the lovelorn pubescent peddlers of popular music.
From the upright bass rockabilly strut of ‘Love in the Asylum’, the driving guitar rock of ‘Tel Aviv A Go-Go’ to the lounge jazz inflected ‘Without a Counterpart’ there is something of everything going on here, not content, as many would be, to do one thing well, musically speaking, Marx has the audacity to do lots of things well, damn him. Providing most of the actual playing, except the two musicians mentioned and Kevin Wilkinson’s consummate drumming, and all of the song writing Marx certainly shows that there is a wealth of talent here. This is an album that sits comfortably between pop and a hard place, if you will forgive the pun, and I certainly look forward to re-acquainting myself with his work