Midway into Bleu’s fourth disc, the mundanely titled Four (The Major Label), as I listened to the sweetly poppy “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” I found myself thinking back to the first time I heard Nilsson Shmilsson and “The Moonbeam Song.” I remembered my double-take back in the early seventies when the song’s lyrics first sliced through its gorgeously crooned and orchestrated sound and I went, “Did he just sing ‘bits of crap’ in that song?” Having put the Bleu disc into my car’s CD player without checking the track titles, I had a similar reaction: “Didn’t he just sing ‘It’ll bite you in the ass’?”
The Nilsson comparison proves apt in more ways than one: like Harry, Bleu (a.k.a. William James McAuley III) has written tunes for teenybopper idols (with the former, it was the Monkees; with the mutton-chopped one, it’s the Jonas Brothers) and displayed an affinity on his own discs for addictively hooky tunes carrying bruised and occasionally philosophical lyrics. Both pop-rockers have a love for early r-&-b: with Shmilsson it was Ray Charles and the Crescent City; for Bleu, it’s horn-y Memphis soul. Neither artist is afraid to dip into schmaltz — Four contains a track (“How Blue”) that sounds like it could’ve been pulled off a Bread album — though, thankfully, that predilection has been kept to a minimum on this release.
To these ears “Blue” is the only skippable track on Four. The rest proves poppishly addictive. “Dead in the Mornin’” is a compelling gospel track where the singer imagines skipping out on his credit card bills and willing all his possessions to friends and listeners; “In Love with My Lover” is a soulful horn-backed ballad that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Otis Blue; “I’ll Know It When I See It” is a power poppy expression of cautious optimism, while “Everything Is Fine” (co-written with Jellyfish alum Roger Joseph Manning Jr. — make up your own lineage joke, if you must) has the lo-fi melodiousness of pre-Wings McCartney. Could do without having to wait four frigging minutes before getting to hear the bonus track, “My Own Personal Jesus,” another gripping horn-drenched number — in part because its lyrical consideration of faith and the difficulty holding onto same ties so much of the album together.