Many Britpop bands of the mid-’90s can trace their sonic roots back to various new wavers of the not-so-distant past; in that case, Echobelly is the result of a marriage between Blondie and the Smiths. Less self-conscious and more pop-oriented than Elastica but just as modishly tight, the smart, kicky London quintet delivers bite-size hits of melodic rock. No bland teabag Britons, the group boasts a multicultural lineup of plucky Anglo-Indian singer Sonya Aurora Madan and dynamite guitar work from Swedish-born songwriter Glenn Johansson and black lesbian Debbie Smith, late of Curve.
With two songs recut from the prior EP, Everyone’s Got One (knowingly referred to as EGO) begins with three brilliant tracks highlighted by Madan’s memorable lyrics: the soaring, sociological “Today Tomorrow Sometime Never,” a personal attack on prearranged marriages (“Father, Ruler, King, Computer”-“Don’t pin me down with vows and flowers”) and the feminist anthem “Give Her a Gun.” Andy Henderson’s propulsive drumming and the well-timed power chords drive again and again into big-payoff choruses, nailed by Madan’s clear, cheeky voice. The stunning single “Insomniac” is another LP highlight.
Even more consistent and vibrantly produced (by Boston’s Fort Apache team of Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie), On again leads off with a trio of terrific tunes. The dreamy and driving “Car Fiction” is as good, as effortlessly catchy, as anything on, say, Parallel Lines; “King of the Kerb” is equally ace, with molten melody lines; “Great Things” sums up Madan’s inspirational credo: “I wanna do great things/I don’t wanna compromise/I wanna know what life is/I wanna know everything.” Not that the disc slacks off afterward. “Four Letter Word,” “In the Year” and “Go Away” are luscious hard pop, while the Suede-like epic “Dark Therapy” proves Echobelly equally adept at longer, more complex arrangements. A sleazy dead Brit politico is playfully tackled in “Pantyhose and Roses,” but the glammy, sexual “Nobody Like You” (“let me climb inside you, caress your fevered tongue”) shows Madan can even make erotica seem righteous.