Underground Lovers, Rushall Station (Mainstream/Rubber/Shock)
"Alternative?" asked the Underground Lovers on the sleeve notes to their 1995 EP "Splendid": "Alternative to what?" It's a fair point, because if ever there was an album that doesn't deserve to be consigned to indie obscurity, it's Rushall Station. Having already produced three essential albums, the Lovers have surpassed themselves with a haunting and hypnotic offering that leaves the "mainstream" looking even more tired and uninspired than usual.
From the opening track "All Brand New", with a gentle sound that instantly insinuates itself into your head, there's not a single weak point. Rushall Station combines the band's more familiar upbeat noisy guitars and space-synth sounds with a peaceful yet deliberate pace to produce their most cohesive work since Leaves Me Blind. Where Leaves Me Blind evoked the darkness of the abyss, however, Rushall Station evokes the darkness of a summer night, when the afterglow of a hot day leaves you feeling warm, relaxed, and happy.
As always, there's plenty of noteworthy lyrical touches, with more than the occasional nod to the Underground Lovers' past (they're certainly down on tabloids and superstars); and these are ably carried by Vincent Giarrusso's understated vocals. Those who wondered how the loss of Philippa Nihill's similarly engaging voice would affect the band will be pleased to learn that her departure was apparently an amicable one: she guests on "Song of Another Love" to fine effect.
In the end, though, it's the music that lifts Rushall Station to a higher plane. The Lovers hit a groove from the outset and never lose it. Sparing use of trumpets (on "On and On and On and On") and cello (on later tracks) complements matters perfectly. The peak, perhaps, is "Descending for Now", a glittering combination of chugging and chiming guitars; but really, it's all peaks. I'd hate to be the one choosing the singles.
The final endearing touches on Rushall Station are the intentional flaws: the ragged intros and outros, the traces left by the tape recorder. They leave you feeling like you're there in the studio, listening to a masterpiece being made. The only touch that annoyed me (at first) was the abrupt ending to the slow build on the final track, "Tabloid or Bust"—and only because I wanted Rushall Station to go on and on and on and on.