Baby Bird Ugly Beautiful

MUSIC

Echo import

Obscurity does breed some wonderful surprises. Take Baby Bird: Over the past seven years, Stephen Jones, a former cinema usher (among other less-than-glamorous vocations), wrote and recorded 400 or so songs on 4-track tape recorder in his Sheffield, England home. Finally, after some gentle prodding from friends, Jones agreed to self-release four albums in a one-year period. In order to tour and make the most of a could-be pop career, he fleshed out Baby Bird with 4 bandmates and unleashed Ugly Beautiful, his official coming-out party.

With a studied, high-drama voice somewhere between Bono and Bunnyman Ian McCullough, Jones croons his way through this scrapbook of somber lullabies ("Dead Bird Sings" and "You and Me") and smashing satires (Christ almighty gets an earful in "Bad Shave"). In the disc's shining moment, "You're Gorgeous" (a deserved Top-5 hit in the UK) Jones's character, a bewildered model, stands as a Baby Bird archetype: the naive loser, falling into traps of boredom, obsession, and compulsion, never quite getting his wings set straight.

Coming off like a more refined version of Beck (he's British, remember), Baby Bird's cut-and-paste collection of trip-hop drum machine tricks and gibberish sometimes suffers from self-indulgent sloppiness. "I dare you to change the fucking channel!" he bellows in the 10-minute rant "King Bing"--and believe me, you're tempted. But like Beck, Jones's best work is less the obvious jokes ("You're not even The Artist Formerly Known as Prince...You're a King") than the almost scarily right-on social commentary disguised as slap-dash dance music. No word yet on a U.S. release, but this Bird is ready to fly.

 
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