How to make a winning album: Take equal parts of the best of Oasis and R.E.M. Mix them together and sprinkle in a bit of heroin. Don’t think it would work? Listen to the beautiful music the British group Shack created on its album H.M.S. Fable (London) and you might just change your mind.
The first thing you need to know about Shack is that Michael Head, singer and the creative force behind the band, battles with drug addictions. He has had long and numerous battles with them.
But, the opening of “Natalie’s Party” makes it seem as if those drugs haven’t hurt Head all that much. The song kicks in the doors to your head with an incredibly energetic and alive sound. This is the kind of power Oasis loves to pretend they have – Shack is the real deal.
In fact, the whole first half of the album seems to beat Oasis at its own game. “Comedy,” with its laid back melancholy tone, emphasizes the downbeat lyrics about remembering a past relationship. “Pull Together” is an epic that again puts Oasis’ attempts at the same style to shame. It soars out of the stereo speakers into your brain for days. “Beautiful” and “Lend Some Dough” aren’t essential to the success of the album, but they aren’t bad. Instead, these songs are pleasant bar-band type music, similar to the sounds of other Brit-pop bands.
Shack should be commended for doing what most Brit-pop bands can’t do – make the second half of the album as good as the first. This is the part of the album where the R.E.M. influences kick in. Starting with the psychedelic sea shanty of “Captain’s Table,” the songs become darker and more introspective. After the energy of the first half, listening to this you sit back and let the music whisk you away.
“I Want You” sounds as if it could have been taken straight from one of R.E.M.’s later albums. The same statement holds true for “Since I Met You.” And, in both, Head sounds as if he is channeling Michael Stipe through him.
The masterpiece, “Streets of Kenny,” comes right in the middle of the album. Here’s where Head’s addiction problems come into play. “Streets of Kenny” has drugs written all over it, namely heroin. In fact, this song could be The Velvet Underground’s classic “Waiting for the Man” updated for the 1990s. Both deal with the same topic – trying to score heroin. “Streets of Kenny” is anchored by a dirge-sounding drum beat, and then the song explodes into a fury of guitar riffs before coming down. The music is the perfect match to the topic of the song.
The album ends on a somber note with the folk-tune “Daniella,” which showcases Head and his guitar. It’s a haunting portrait of what life as a junkie is truly like, something Head knows well. “We thought we saw Jack for a while/ And we did, and he’s in a terrible state/ His brand new trainers gone and his teeth/ He looked high as heaven to me.”
It’s beautiful – just like the rest of this amazing album.