The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album "The Sweet Used-To-Be" by David Turpin

David Turpin The Sweet Used-To-BeReview Snapshot: A highly melodic, easily listenable work that creates a foundation for Turpin to work upon. The disappointing aspect of the album lies in a lack of experimentation or adventure.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
A visible trend in recent years has been the rehabilitation and adaptation of everything 1980s. From fashion (horrifically, in my opinion – big hair and legwarmers will never be my idea of style) to music, the once-reviled 80s are on the resurgence.

Musically, this means for the most part the use of the ‘external aesthetics’ of music of that era. This means that the experimentation and theoretical concepts surrounding the music are all but ignored in favour of the trappings of the time. For example, when Kylie Minogue looked to Scritti Politti for inspiration in the early part of this decade, it certainly wasn’t due to an appreciation of Green Gartside’s pop deconstructionism, but the synthetic pop style he excelled in. New Pop with the external look, but none of the heart.

On the other hand, David Turpin is a fine example of an artist who rejects empty co-option, embracing a post-punk attitude more in keeping with the original artists. His own ideas are comparable to the Human League as described by Simon Reynolds: “post-punk, but post-ABBA too.” Melding pop culture with the avant garde, he describes himself as “falling somewhere between The Velvet Underground and the Pet Shop Boys”, an apt description of The Sweet Used-To-Be.

Songs like “White Lemonade” demonstrate this well, with Turpin’s lyrics contrasting the original source (the lemon tree) with the product it becomes, distant and unrecognisable; this is similar to the personal, emotive nature of the words emerging through the cold and atmospheric electronics.

This paradoxical blending of tunefulness with cold electronics, pioneered by Moroder and Kraftwerk but perfected in the 80s by acts like Soft Cell, is the defining musical characteristic of the album, but recurring acoustic elements help to maintain interest, even if at times they sound played with the same machine-precision as the synthesisers and drum machines.

These two strands are fused to excellent effect on the instrumental “Melody Of The Plains,” one of the highlights of the album. A subdued, downtempo track, it is a brief point on the album where calmness holds sway, embellished toward the end with Trans-Europe Express strings, a recurring motif on the record.

“Patience” is another highlight, where Turpin’s breathy, “Sunday Morning” Lou Reed vocals work beautifully in tandem with female accompaniment to create a sparse but melodic song, a minimalist respite from the electro-pop that dominates the record. There are times when the synths are overused, where the songs are almost too mellifluous. Fortunately, Turpin wisely places interludes throughout the album, meaning the songs don’t begin to blend into one another, as is a problem for albums with a strong central musical theme.

A downside is the fact that the “Velvet Underground” aspect of the music appears to disappear as the album progresses. While there are certainly dark moments on a few songs, the “Pet Shop Boys” element ultimately triumphs. This is something of a disappointment as the premise sounds very promising; hopefully something Turpin will expand on in future releases, fully using the arty side missing on The Sweet Used-To-Be.

Nonetheless, David Turpin represents a promising addition to the Irish music scene.

Pádraic Grant

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