by: Haircut 100
If Orange Juice famously wanted to sound like a combination of Chic and the Velvet Underground, then Haircut 100 must have wanted to sound like a combination of Orange Juice and Chic. Heavy on the Juice. On their debut and only album with band founder Nick Heyward, Pelican West, the group display all the skittery beats, deep-voiced crooning, and pop smarts of OJ, while adding more funk and saxophone than Edwyn Collins and co. probably ever imagined. That Haircut 100 scored a bigger hit than the band they so clearly idolized must have rubbed the lads in Orange Juice the worst way, but it's clear from even one listen through Pelican West that Haircut 100 were more than just mere copycats. "Love Plus One" is that aforementioned mega hit and it deserved to be a timeless classic. Nick Heyward knew how to write pop hooks and the band fills it in with brilliant subtlety. There are siblings to that song scattered across the record. "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)," "Marine Boy," and the ecstatic "Fantastic Day" all have wonderfully snappy melodies and huge choruses, "Milk Film," "Surprise Me Again," and "Snow Girl" have a refined pop sound that skews a little less gleeful and a little more melancholy. Sure, they are all prone to sax breakdowns and horn section crescendos that sound like Chicago happened by the studio, but the bulk of the album is first-rate '80s sophisti-pop. The few tracks that cast aside the traditional song structure and jump over to the Chic side of the equation are fun, though very much of their time. "Love's Got Me in Triangles" and "Calling Captain Autumn" are both quite British, with a sort of awkward kind of funk almost quaint in its unfunkiness. Heyward's attempts at rapping on the latter achieve beat poet-meets-Captain Sensible levels of uncoolness that circle back around to coolness in the end somehow. The entire record is a little like that. From their corny outfits to their lighter-than-air sound, Haircut 100 were never going to be dangerous or sexy. The best they could hope for was escapist, but never mindless fun, and on Pelican West they bury their arrows dead center in the middle of that target.