The Lees of Memory – Unnecessary Evil
OK, just for a moment let’s imagine an alternative universe, Bizzaro World scenario where Lemmy never died. Then let’s imagine that Lemmy, who is still alive, decided to break up the 2015 incarnation of Motorhead to form a new band, a trio with O.G. Motorhead member Fast Eddie Clark on guitar and some other dude on drums. Lemmy is (was) Motorhead, right? So, would this hypothetical “new” band with Fast Eddie Clark be Motorhead, exactly – even if it wasn’t called Motorhead per se? And, if not, the spectre of Motorhead would certainly loom large over the new band, right?
OK, now let’s switch gears and go back to reality.
Knoxville’s power-pop kingpins, Superdrag, finally broke up for good around 2010. And Superdrag was auteur John Davis’s show, right? Now there’s a (relatively) new band, The Lees of Memory, which is John Davis’s new joint, so to speak. (Ain’t I a wit?) What’s more, The Lees of Memory features Brandon Fisher, a mainstay (probably the main mainstay) of Superdrag Mach I on guitar and some other dude (Nick Slack) on drums. John Davis was Superdrag’s Lemmy and Brandon Fisher was Superdrag’s Fast Eddie Clark. So, is The Lees of Memory “the new Superdrag?” Well, yes and no – but more yes than no.
Unnecessary Evil is The Lees of Memory’s sophomore album, and it’s a lot more Superdrag than the debut, 2014’s Sisyphus Says – which was for all intents and purposes a shoegaze album (that was excellent). Here, Davis & Co. are (again) offering the tightly wound, artfully wrought and downright rockin’ sound we came to expect from Superdrag. So, a classic sound is new again.
The album is steeped in the Four B’s of melodic pop/rock: The Beatles, Big Star, Badfinger and The Beach Boys – with just a hint of The Posies and Teenage Fanclub on the side. (Granted, The Posies and Teenage Fanclub are long since established on the pop/rock continuum in the wake of the aforementioned Four B’s.) In other words, Unnecessary Evil is about as good as power-pop gets these days.
Please don’t be misled by the generic designation, “power-pop.” This is not music for and about horny teenagers by men in their mid-30s with skinny ties and tight pants. This is vivid, memorable, melodic pop music, little symphonies that only seem simple because they’re so instantly engaging – but they’re not simple. This is orchestration. This is deft composition. This is artistry. This is pop rendered powerful through its artistry.
OK, I won’t beleaguer this review with a detailed, song-for-song dissection of Unnecessary Evil. I’ll just mention the two tracks that are, for me, the very best. (The album is uniformly excellent, BTW.)
“XLII” is the most immediately accessible track on the album. The song is reminiscent of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and George Harrison’s “What is Life” – not so much for its melodic similarities as its compositional completeness. You know how certain favorite songs have a sweet spot (usually [but not always] the bridge) where everything converges just so? Well, “XLII” is nothing but sweet spots. The first riff is my favorite part of the song – until the second riff comes along, that is. Then, the second riff is my favorite part of the song – until the third riff comes along, etc., etc. This is John Davis at his best.
Unnecessary Evil reaches its emotional acme with “Just for a Moment,” a lament for, uh, something (the lyrics are ambiguous in the best kind of way) co-written by Fisher and Davis. The song might be about a failed relationship or (more likely, I think) the frailty of life itself. Whatever its “real” meaning, the track taps into a sense of universal longing and loss – which is perfectly underscored by the interplay of languidly soaring guitar lines. It’s certainly melodic – and is, thus, “pop.” But the song grapples with Something/Anything of an unanswerable existential dilemma – so it’s really, really heavy.
With their sophomore effort, The Lees of Memory are coming dangerously close to pop perfection. This is adult music. Unnecessary Evil is serious and important music – which is good music.
The Lees of Memory
[John Davis Brand Music]