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Memories of the Never Happened
Tel Aviv rockers Rockfour can't seem to make up their minds about whether they want to be an expansive, psychedelic band like their heroes, Pink Floyd, a harmony-laden, jangly Sixties pop group like the Zombies or the Byrds, or sleek modern rockers. So on the band's third album in English - Memories of the Never Happened - it tries to be all three.
Earlier this year, the band won a competition sponsored by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour seeking the best cover version of the early Floyd underground hit "Arnold Layne." That style - part mid-Sixties flower power pop, part mind-expanding freakout - is the dominant feature of Rockfour's own music.
A trio since the departure of singer Eli Lulai following the band's last album, Rockfour now relies for its lead vocals on guitarist Baruch Ben-Izhak, who ably picks up the slack. So do his bandmates, Marc Lazare (bass/vocals), Issar Tennenbaum (drums and percussion/vocals) and Jacob Gani (keyboard). In addition to providing intricate three-part harmonies that recall the big B's (Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys), they can also rock out.
When the band sticks to the upbeat and concise power pop of "No Worries" and "Dear Truth" (which features a fun Rickenbacker guitar break), its strengths come to the forefront. Those strengths are obscured however, when the band indulges in drawn-out prog-rock passages such as the mellotron-heavy instrumental on the opening dozer "Glued," or on "Old Village Road," which travels through too many hippy-dippy passages to build any character of its own.
Rockfour's music is much more convincing when it forgoes the past (or at least the Austin Powers version of the past), as it does on "Goes Around," a modern guitar ringer, and "It Ain't Easy," a chunky hook-driven slice of Eighties/Nineties power pop. While it's clear the Summer of Love era is an integral element of the band's songwriting inspiration, the ease and power with which it tackles "It Ain't Easy" and more straightforward rockers point to a bright future.
Which makes it frustrating that, instead of keeping to three-minute hits, the album is also laced with failed attempts at more sophisticated fare. The attempted waltz-rhythm anthem "Young Believe" gets bogged down by its weak melody and unimaginative arrangement. And the closer, "Corridors," also never gets on track, sounding like a five-minute prelude to something else despite its gorgeous Brian Wilson-derived harmonies.
With talent to burn, Rockfour could easily make the jump to the international big time. Group members just need to hone in on what they do best, and leave the seven-minute acid flashbacks to Dave Gilmour.
Are You Listening?
The voice of one of Ireland's most successful rock exports of the 1990s, the Cranberries, Dolores O'Riordan returns after close to a decade out of the spotlight with the charming Are You Listening?.
With her distinctive vocal style propelling Cranberries hits like "Zombie" and "Linger," O'Riordan basically led the group into the ground by the time of its last album, 2001's Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, due in part to lack of writing inspiration on O'Riordan's part.
After spending the early part of this decade regaining a bit of non-show biz balance and devoting time to her family, O'Riordan seems recharged on Are You Listening?. For the most part leaving behind the darker, alternative side of the Cranberries, O'Riordan focuses on melodic, acoustic-driven pop, which is where she sounds most at home.
Aside from an awkward attempt at Evanscence-inspired goth power chording on "In The Garden," O'Riordan is content to keep to the understated side of her music. But the passionate vocal delivery she brought to the Cranberries still rings through, with each song unmistakably identifiable to anyone who's heard her songs in the past.
It's good to have her back, and let's hope she lingers for a while this time.