written by Chris Familton
In the mid 2000s Simon Carter was songwriter and frontman for Sydney’s The Cops. Their route to market was a certain power pop with some UK glam and britpop influences that made them popular on the live circuit and achieved a fair amount of radio play. Sine the dissolution of The Cops Carter has been bunkered down in Summer Hill concocting a new brew of songs that take a distinctly darker, varied and ‘classic’ direction.
There is so much going on across the 11 tracks on The Black Book Of The Universe that it at first sounds like Carter has thrown all his paint at the canvas in a desperate attempt to get all his ideas out at once. Persevere and you will find the album emerging as a true definition of a ‘grower’. Melodies that washed past your ears first time round engage your memory cells like superglue and you get caught up in the mystery and romance of what is essentially a widescreen prog-pop album that harnesses a plethora of modern pop influences.
First track Hold Your Horses is a great example of the multitude of layers that Carter builds into his songs. Beginning with a simple piano-led, sing-song vocal it quickly swells before morphing into a groove heavy second half with falsetto ‘aaahs’ and a blues rock swagger that shows there is as much rock as pop at work here. The Hunter’s Moon is sonically a sequel of sorts to the opening track that substitutes the bombast with keyboards to paint a softer, afterthought atmosphere.
Symbio is the most rewarding moment on The Black Book Of The Universe. The faltering guitar through the verses gives the song a choppy feel that complements Carter’s vocal perfectly. When he hits the chorus the melody is a killer that recalls the best of 80s English pop like Echo & The Bunnymen, Julian Cope and even the more chart friendly Tears For Fears.
On Grey Gardens and Arizona Carter has clearly been influenced by some of the Americana of the last decade. There are peals of slide guitar on the former that somehow manage to drift between Route 66 and the London streets of Pink Floyd. The Gilmour reference is unashamedly furthered with a slowburn guitar solo that doesn’t hide behind effects and texture but goes straight for the heart and head at the same time. You can picture Carter with eyes clenched shut and head rolled back, sweating out the notes as the band stirs up the song’s magical rising tide of dark pysch soul behind him.
Hard Rain is the second single to come from the album and carries a strong English flavour with its sunny bounce and pop stomp that recalls Supergrass and even Small Faces with its clean mix of piano, guitars and sweet vocals. It verges on the twee but shows restraint by reining in any temptation toward pastiche and exaggeration.
In The Wilderness I Wept takes a step into the shadows highlighting the playing of Carter’s band and the mastery of mood and pace that they bring to the album. Radiohead and The Verve are responsible for the smoothly rolling verses but then Carter again unleashes the proverbial kitchen sink and when they cut loose for the ridiculously indulgent finale to the song you can’t help but enjoy the over the top bombast and acknowledge they have earned the right to loosen their seatbelts.
Carter’s avoidance of scenes and trends on The Black Book Of The Universe is both a hindrance and a highlight in the sense that many will dismiss his songwriting as pure self-indulgence. He isn’t chillwave, garage rock, electro or indie though there are elements of all of these genres scattered throughout his songwriting. It is a bold move to release an album so out of step with the times but that could just be his winning move and you sense that Carter had to write and record these songs in the way he has. This isn’t a songwriter trying to be clever but rather an exceptional example of a mature and inventive musician allowing his muse free rein.