Like ex-bandmate Robyn Hitchcock, Kimberley Rew survived the end of the Soft Boys to take further forays into melodious ’60s folk-rock and psychedelia, as the eight tracks (seven previously released) on his 1982 solo release prove. Working with the dB’s, ex-Soft Boys and a new group called the Waves, Rew doesn’t pursue weirdness as avidly as Hitchcock does, but the singer/guitarist/keyboardist has a neat winner with The Bible of Bop.
Rew and the Waves subsequently became a fulltime proposition, a sympathetic and commercially potent outlet for his ace songwriting. The Anglo-American quartet’s other major asset is singer/guitarist Katrina Leskanich, a Kansas native with a strong, flexible voice equally suited for full-tilt pop harmonies and belt-it-out rock’n’roll. The band melds a diverse collection of styles, personalities and ethnic backgrounds.
The low-budget Shock Horror! contains early versions of eight songs, only a few of which have since surfaced on the band’s albums. “Strolling on Air,” cut with a former bassist, is an especially rich find; the other tunes (except for an MC5-ish raver, “Atomic Rock’n’Roll”) are typically engaging but not particularly well recorded. Interesting and certainly no embarrassment.
Walking on Sunshine contains such absolutely brilliant songs as “Going Down to Liverpool” (cleverly covered by the Bangles, who could spot a tune worth singing) and the infectious title track. Guarantee: hear this record once and you’ll find yourself humming at least one track from it a week later. It flows magnificently from start to end, and subsumes individual accomplishments into a true group effort. A greatest hits album the first time out.
KATW 2 takes a harder-rocking bent, downplaying the tunefulness slightly to highlight jumping numbers like “She Likes to Groove,” the nutty “Maniac House” and a powerful, Janis Joplin-like blues, “Cry for Me.” Pointing up the band’s only weakness, the lyrics to “Mexico” (written by bassist Vince de la Cruz) don’t achieve much in the way of profundity; the soaring vocals and ethnic-flavored simplicity, however, make that a strictly academic problem. Other great tracks: “Red Wine and Whisky” and “The Game of Love.” Not as glorious as the debut, but a boss record nonetheless.
Katrina and the Waves consists entirely of songs from the first two albums, but they’ve all been re-recorded or remixed. In most cases, it’s an improvement, exposing untapped realms of both pop and power, but the second “Going Down to Liverpool” obliterates the atmosphere and the hooky melody of the original in an absurdly overheated arrangement. With that one caveat, Katrina and the Waves is otherwise a delight.
Evidencing mild signs of commercial selfconsciousness, Waves isn’t as charming, although several of the tunes boast all the attributes that make the band so appealing. Foamy Hammond organ, prominent in spots, matches Leskanich’s newly soul-ized singing to push the group towards a Stax sound. Although the songs (only two of them by Rew, previously the band’s main writer) aren’t as memorable, they’re solid enough to make this a reasonably pleasing record.
Break of Hearts is a horrendously wrongheaded comeback bid that shows the Waves to be utterly oblivious to their own strengths. With the exceptions of the peppy Tex-Mex-style “Rock’n’Roll Girl” and the Cheap Trickish pop-metal “Rock Myself to Sleep,” it’s bland, overprocessed commercial slop, with Katrina (who sports a metal-chick makeover on the album cover) shrilly belting over characterless backing tracks. And the Waves have no one but themselves to blame for this disaster, since they get the production credit.