The standard line on Simple Kid (a.k.a. Ciaran McFeely) is that the guy's a member of the one-man band smartypop crowd a lá Beck or Badly Drawn Boy.
First time I heard Simp's honed-down sophomore disc, 2 (Yep Roc), though, I found myself going further back in pop-rock history – to Nils Lofgren's classic solo debut. Maybe it's the reedy voices or the use of slide guitar; perhaps it's the simple fact that both releases contain tracks commenting on big-name rockstars (in Nils' case, it was Keith Richards; in SK's, Elton John).
Whatever the reason, the comparison came up, and, happily, 2 largely held up to it. Only thing missing from the package to truly seal the deal is a picture of a sideshow performer on the booklet cover . . .
Despite an occasional foray into the low-fi acoustic cutes ("Self Help Book," "Old Domestic Cat"), the Kid's new release typically features a rough-hewn shuffling of slide guitar, banjo, electrobeats and periodic mystery tour arrangements.
Thus, the moody "Serotonin" (one of the disc's stand-out tracks) blends "Heart of Gold" harmonica over a churning rhythm and "I Am the Walrus" faux strings. Skiffling opener, "Lil' King Kong," features backing reminiscent of T. Rex's Incredivoices (a.k.a. Flo & Eddie), which is also used to sound effect in the brooding southern gothic track "Mommy 'N Daddy."
At its best – as in the sweetly melancholy "Song of Stone" – 2 blends quirky modern folk-rock with cannily observational lyrics. At his weakest (the sledge-hammery celeb-basher "Ballad of Elton John"), the Kid is perhaps a trace too Simple.
Taunting celebrity "wankers" like Marilyn Manson and telling 'em to "go home to their mamas" may provide a naggingly catchy chorus, but it's still pretty ham-handed. More effective is Simp's "Twenty Something" anthem, which sharply conveys its subject's sense of desperation over choogling guitar and some neatly sloppy drumwork. Just what ya need to beat the generational doldrums: a few good tunes and your own home studio. I thinking Nils, who once sang about how expensive it is "just to get older," knows whereof Ciaran sings . . .