Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé record review
coverpic flag New Zealand - Full Moon 244 - 07/20/16

Lawrence Arabia
Absolute Truth
Flying Nun Records

'And then, as Reginald Dwight made way for the musical entity that was Elton John, and David Jones blossomed into David Bowie, so plain old James Milne ceded to the ubermensch that has become one of New Zealand's finest contemporary songwriters and performers - the celebrated singer of songs that is Lawrence Arabia.' (Jeremy Taylor, NZ singer/songwriter)

I really enjoyed Lawrence Arabia's "A Lake" when checking it out a couple of mooths back (its temperature, its depth, its bathing or fishing possibilities...). "A Lake" was the first single (and the opening track) lifted from Arabia's fourth album proper, Absolute Truth. Lawrence Arabia (a.k.a. James Milne) presents a good handful of pop songs that sparkle and shine. Milne, or his pseudonym Lawrence Arabia, is a good, proper pop man. Like he states on his Twitter account: 'Professional musician, amateur human being.' While his first two albums,Lawrence Arabia (2006) and Chant Darling (2009) were released by Honorary Bedouin Records/Lil' Chief Records his last album, 2012's The Sparrow, came out via Bella Union. This time Lawrence Arabia has teamed up with New Zealand's legendary indie label Flying Nun Records, which should be a perfect match: Flying Nun was founded/formed in Christchurch, NZ, in 1981. James Milne was born in Christchurch in 1981!

Absolute Truth opens perfectly with "A Lake" - an indeed fine pop song about finding love, or being taken care of by love: A lake; a field; a fire; a force; ... then love. When hearing through Absolute Truth you get to hear timeless pop music with hints of any/every decade from the 60s and up. The Zombies, Electric Prunes, Morgan Fisher (for some reason I come to think of his Seasons album - it might be the link to The Zombies cover), Harry Nilsson, a toned down Mott The Hoople (briefly, very briefly), Felt, Orange Juice, The Divine Comedy, Cardinal (Richard Davies + Eric Matthews), Pulp, The Magnetic Fields, Bobby Conn (it might be the 'Nilsson connection'), and others... up to 'our time' if you can imagine a blend of, say... Owen Pallett and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Or, like Flying Nun puts it, describing the album being '...a hearty slice of timeless music inspired as much by 1970's West Coast Americana as New Zealand indie pop.' Lawrence Arabia is a good at what's often labeled as 'chamber pop', but he's basically good at making comfortable, chilled and down pop moods. Lawrence Arabia seems to be a bit like Lawrence of Arabia, a.k.a. Thomas Edward Lawrence [1888-1935], the British archaeologist, diplomat and military officer. Peaceful, but strategically good at war at the same time: war as in guerrilla war, as in pop guerilla war. This is high level pop archaeology and pop diplomacy, as well as unconventional guerilla pop attacks. While I am at this, uh... sidetrack: You should go see David Lean's epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia (in wonderful Super Panavision 70 mm) with the brilliant Peter O'Toole starring as T. E. Lawrence, telling the tale of Lawrence's WW1 actions (such as the Sinai and Palestine campaign, ca.1915-1918, and the Arab revolt against the Turkish/Ottoman Empire, 1916-1918). O'Toole was cast as Lawrence over Marlon Brando, Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift, and the role fits him perfectly. And/or vice versa.

Lawrence Arabia has been called a 'connoisseur of classic songwriting'. Absolute Truth might sail up as one of the superb, secret pop albums of 2016, as the record is flowing and flooding with delicate pop songs. "A Lake", of course, but also "I Waste My Time", "Another Century" - which is described as 'both sardonic and sentimental, clever and charming, and sure to elate thoughtful feelers and feeling thinkers alike...', "Brain Gym", "The Palest Of Them All", "What Became Of That Angry Young Man?". The list is long, and the album's growing for each listen. The songs are all cleverly played and performed, neatly arranged and produced (Arabia/Milne along with his co-producing sidekick Mike Fabulous). Absolute Truth is a joyous adventure of an album and the album's artwork is as genius as the musical content. Go check out the facial map topography, it's brilliant. Arabia's lyrics is another topic to go check, as they're either down-to-earth, plain stories or Adventurously colorful and playful verses. Theyh're all a fine mixture of prosaically and poetically tales. The result is something perfectly controlled whip-smart-like, something deadpan-ish with a grin. Here's a few examples, of elegance and humour:

And now we crave all the comforts and accessories available, and complain about our backs and how it is impossible to relax.
We walk the dog and sadly we consider how everything's been ruined,
and moan about the youth while our arbitrary opinions become absolute truth.'

("O Heathcote")

'I lose my cool about you,
a pool of drool without you,
Cro-Magnon man's got nothing on me girl, lately.
I can't see any purpose,
my head's a filthy surface,
my arms are long but the only things they reach are useless...'

("I Waste My Time")

When I was young and arrogant you told me to shut my mouth and get on with it.
I was so young and foolish, bold and bullish, kinda toolish.
...
'When I was poor and envious you told me to eat my toast and contend with this.
I was an eggy soldier, now I'm older I've got shoulders.

("Brain Gym")

I'm already convinced that Absolute Truth will end up in my Top Ten list of fave albums of 2016. Yes, it is that cool and good. The 'other' Lawrence was killed after a motorcycle accident (in 1935) at the age of 46. Hopefuly this Lawrence will outlive the old Lawrence by years and years. To quote the label on the album release: '...in cricket terminology (which we know he's fond of), [and with Aussie/NZ slang...] Larry's hit a six, beaut boundary mate. We'll be back after tea break.' Runs and innings, mates! Runs and innings. Oh, yeah I can't help it, just have to end this with a 'old Lawrence' quotes:
Club Secretary: 'I say, Lawrence. You are a clown!
T.E. Lawrence: 'Ah, well, we can't all be lion tamers.' Well, yes... here's another great Lawrence of Arabia quote:
General Murray: 'I can't make out whether you're bloody bad-mannered or just half-witted.' T.E. Lawrence: 'I have the same problem, sir.'

Copyright © 2016 Peter Toole e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Lawrence Arabia article/review: A Lake.

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