inn Andrews was barely of age when he began composing the songs to his debut album, The Runaway Found. Soon after it was released, the rest of the band quit. While this development was somewhat dramatic, a rotating cast should come as no surprise when a band’s frontman writes all of its songs. Now a young twenty-something with new backup instrumentalists on board, Andrews has tapped into the reserves of his ambitiously influenced childhood (he is the son of XTC keyboardist and general ‘80s aficionado Barry Andrews) and in so doing, made an explorative album that still managed to do right on the U.K. album chart. Nux Vomica, on whose cover one finds either Andrews or Boy George, is an interesting, good album: more inventive, heavy, meaningful, and memorable than the Veils’ first.
The hook of such a statement is “Jesus for the Jugular,” the kind of song the Raconteurs may have written, but definitely didn’t: thick electric guitar and bass, creepy violin, heavy snares, smoky effects, just the right amount of piano, and a fury of screaming vocals. Andrews is generally more interested here in the influence of blues on rock: the lyrical ballad of opener “Not Yet” almost rises to the occasion of “Jesus,” and otherwise stays in its realm of genres. A screeching effects pedal peppers the roiling guitars and feathery percussion of the chorus, hinting that the album will be a surprising contributor to the trendy genre where Neko Case lives.
There’s no doubt that Andrews is a sophisticated songwriter. This was evident on the Veils’ debut, but there, precision and poppy memorabilia too often took over. For the F.M. dial here, Andrews allows the goofy “Calliope!,” with the kind of catchy intro a major label wants. Like Jarvis Cocker’s recent undertaking, the song suffers by its dance-y rhythm and stupidly simple chorus of high-pitched strings and piano keys. At the verses and bridge are the most interesting parts: rumbling piano chords and a change to minor key, making the song surprisingly developed for a Badly Drawn pop take-away. Cocker’s interest in early ‘60s ballads, full of reverbs, “oohs,” and claps reappears on the album’s first single, “Advice for Young Mothers to Be.” For this to take the form of a pop ballad, a genre pioneered by female vocalists, makes sense when it becomes clear that Andrews is singing it from the perspective of a mother. Early Tori Amos makes an appearance with the punchy pianos of mythically inclined “Pan,” where more rabid screams repeat the line, “You ain’t nothing but a child” and toss in a gamut of percussive noise and angry strings.
“A Birthday Present” moves to the ‘80s for the soft plucks and huge reverbs common to the Eurythmics. Andrews’ lusty lyrics stand alongside cutesy piano flourishes, glockenspiel taps, and weird Enya-like backup vocals. On the title track Andrews is most familiar vocally, but this is one of the least interesting moments: distant, stormy guitars, flashes of noise, and unintelligibly metaphorical lyrics. The album is exceedingly colorful, though, for a ruminative rainstorm like “Vomica” to stand next to the relatively inventive would-be single, “One Night on Earth.” The latter, like half of Andrews’ efforts here, returns to the tired ‘90s. But alongside post-punk squared, the decade appears considerably less dull. Andrews’ great nostalgia for the past seeps through, more elixir than poison, more score than facsimile.