James Sullivan was once a member of the wonderful Role Models and currently the guitarist and singer of the fabulous More Kicks, Suspect Parts and now it seems is also a rather splendidly capable solo artist. I’m not sure what they put in the water of the bathroom pictured on the artwork for his debut solo outing but, it’s clear to me that James knows how to pen a pop song, and along with the facts we already knew that he has a splendid singing voice and fleet-fingered guitar talent this here solo record is pretty bloody impressive. He says it was intended to be “nothing”, but ended up being most everything is a modest way of putting it but when you let this record breath you will realise that it contains plenty of fantastic tunes and the raw, naked enthusiasm he has for the song rather than the over-produced product of a lot of today’s music, you will appreciate that to chisel away at the unsmooth edges of his songs would be to sanitise and dilute the passion that these songs flourish in.
Quirky and sometimes beautiful turn of phrase or twist of a chord mashed in with a twisted drum pattern is what paints this rich tapestry of Rock and Roll, and some artists just ooze it and James is one of those talented people who write great songs.
It seems every record these days is prefaced with “with lockdown hitting” and doing something to stay sane. James set himself the challenge of writing 10 songs in 10 days and recording them – with no intention of anyone ever hearing them. It was a move away from writing songs for his touring live band. He wanted to make something based entirely on instinct – trying out new styles and not thinking about anything for longer than a few minutes. Write it, record it, move on.
From fuzz induced alternative new wave meets power-pop of ‘Totally Bored’, then ‘Up To My Neck Again’ is wonderful from the opening Kinks like out of tune piano it a beautiful thing as is the lo-fi ’60s pop nuggets (‘It Won’t Do You Harm’) this record has an ebb and flow that feels like your living the experiment with him and as it unravels, enjoying more on every play as something else jumps out that makes you smile and helps pass the remembrance of long lockdowns with nothing to do other than try and remember what things used to be like and would they ever return.
The lead single ‘Lea Bridge’, a New York meets London retro journey through flickered film and four-track memories it has treated wall of sound saturated guitars and an organ with the spoken word account of a cross-town journey. A strange opener and most definitely a left-field introduction. Like the ramblings of a journal from a beat poet emptying his brain onto tape.
It’s the “On the fly” practices that make this such an endearing journey, we know his talents from his previous recordings but this is different and something altogether special and a real grower. Impressive is the fact it’s one take – live to tape from start to finish without overdubs its one hell of an insight. Stripped bare can be an intimidating place for a musician but the melody on ‘Won’t Do You Harm’ is exactly that, Acoustic guitar, fantastic turn of phrase with a Bontempi keyboard and a shaker for cover, it’s as bare as it gets and boy does it work. It’s like getting into a rollercoaster without it being passed for health and safety but hey let’s take this chance. There is a swagger on ‘You Kept My Heart Alive’ and I’d like to think of James sweeping his hair to one side on ‘Getaway’ like a post-punk Phil Oakey as the drum machine plods on through some insane levels of instrumentation but always managing to pull it back from that wall of eight-track noise.
The acoustic balladeering of ‘Man In Black’ is simple and quite beautiful for wiping it clean and just letting the melody and lyrics breathe. There is a hint of Jarvis Cocker on ‘Get Our Sense Away’ and I’ve no clue as to what subliminal messaging is on the end of this recording but I’m not bothered because the xylophone solo whilst it might not be Crazy & The Brain standard it’s needed and it’s one hell of a wonderful recording I’ve just had the pleasure of playing over and over again.
The lyrics of Jagger spring to mind when he said he wished he stick a pen in his heart and spill it all over the stage well Sully has and his bravery and sense of adventure has paid dividends and I Know It’s Only Rock and Roll but I like It! Yes, yes I Do!!
Author: Dom Daley