Manchester’s Jim Noir aspires to the lineage of genteel limey crackpots that runs from Donovan and Syd Barrett through Roy Wood, Robyn Hitchcock, Henry Badowski, Andy Partridge and Julian Cope. Musically, he’s worthy of such heady company: his debut, Tower of Love, overflows with gently psychedelic pop tunes of great wit and charm. Unfortunately, his lyrics don’t measure up; he writes songs that repeat a phrase or two in lieu of any sort of finished thought. “Eeny Meeny,” the Noir tune which gained maddening ubiquity during the 2006 World Cup, is a perfect example of his strengths and shortcomings. It’s catchy as hell, but its complete lack of anything to say beyond two lines concerning an errant football and a garden gnome reduces the foundation of a great pop song into an annoying eardrum buzz. Tellingly, some of the most enjoyable moments here are when Noir simply multi-tracks his vocals into a wordless choir. Great pop doesn’t need to be profound, but it helps if it at least pretends to be about something. Until Noir decides to put as much thought into his words as he does his impressive music (or hires someone to write them for him), he’ll only be halfway there.
If Tower of Love showed that Noir was in good place musically but could use some help with his lyrics, he stubbornly takes almost the completely opposite tack on the eponymous follow-up. The lyrics still feel fragmentary and unfinished, but the music is even more elaborate and kaleidoscopic. Had Syd Barrett still been a healthy and functional artist in the post-new wave era, he might have recorded an album that sounded like this. Songs like “All Right” and “Look Around You” blend late-‘60s psychedelic pop structures with early-‘80s synth-pop textures in a winning combination. “Day by Day by Day” would strongly recall the Moody Blues’ 1980s resurgence if only that band had displayed a tiny bit of wit or humor about its music. Impressively, Jim Noir is mostly a one-man affair, with his voice layered into intricate harmonies. However, as on Tower of Love, the lyrics consist almost entirely of one couplet per song annoyingly repeated several times, a weaknesses which is hard to ignore. Still, when Noir is able to conjure moments such as the instant when the percolating “Oh Happy Day” suddenly erupts into a glorious Beach Boys-like chorus repeating the title phrase, it’s easy to forgive him such shortcomings.