Jamaica: No Problem; 1973: Bye Bye Cellphone


Jamaica and 1973 couldn’t have planned the UK release of their albums better to further strengthen the links between them. ‘No Problem’ is out now, and ‘Bye Bye Cellphone’ hits the UK’s shops in a couple of weeks.
On the surface, both outfits pass the peas-from-a-pod test. Each album cover is graphic-led and dominated by red: no band pics. Each band sings in English. Musically, the two albums are firmly retro-fitted.
But it goes further than that. Both bands sport movers that are old hands. A trio, 1973 feature Thibaut Barbillon and Jérôme Plasseuraud, who are also producers – they worked on the folk-slanted singer-songwriter Rose’s fabulous ‘Les Souvenirs Sous Ma Frange’ album. Barbillon has also recorded and played live with Nouvelle Vague. Jamaica’s producers are Justice’s Xavier de Rosnay and Daft Punk's sound engineer Peter Franco. Safe pairs of hands for this pair of bands.
Versailles-based 1973 look to the early 70s and late 60s for inspiration. Creamy-voiced singer Nicolas Frank tops eleven paeans to a world where the Beach Boys, late Beatles and LA soft rock rule. The press release quotes Barbillon saying “with the exception of Serge Gainsbourg and later electronic things like Air, we [him and Plasseuraud] always thought French music pretty much sucked.” Swooning opening cut ‘Vegas’ proclaims “you are an American dream.” It’s a pleasant, but well-worn, path – since the High Llamas set the benchmark, it’s become a genre rather than a specific homage. Whether another entry in this canon is needed is moot, but 1973 carry it off. ‘Sexy Plane’s harmony-filled climax builds and builds, lifting the song into orbit. By contrast, the acoustic-guitar baroque ballad ‘Little ‘Sis’ fails to take off. 1973 might be yearning for a world before cellphones, but they are so aware of tradition, making music so well crafted that it couldn’t come from any other era than now. Ultimately though, ‘Bye Bye Cellphone’ feels like a project, without a unique identity.
While 1973 personify smoothness, Jamaica open their album with a slab of jagged guitar that's impossible to ignore. Formerly called Poney Poney, they presumably changed their name to avoid confusion with Poni Hoax and Pony Pony Run Run. Jamaica’s clipped, New Wave-informed electro-tinged rock occasionally hints at them being a desiccated version of lost Parisian contenders (and Justice-favoured) Fancy. In essence, Jamaica cross Phoenix with Justice: the structure and repetition of ‘Short and Entertaining’ could have fit snugly onto ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ and their twiddly guitars are borrowed from Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’. A stylish mix for sure, but the very dry and trebly production offers little in the way of texture. And the world could do without the casual sexism: “she was never pretty, she was only young” declares ‘I Think I Like U 2’. “She’s Gonna” goes “she looks like a former porn star in the 50s, she’s obviously much too old to please.”
Jamaica and 1973 have their eyes directed towards the international market. With Justice and Phoenix both Grammy winners, who can blame them? But both need to slough off the respectful genuflection before templates.
© Kieron Tyler