One Dove brings a sense of trad pop tunecraft into the ever-mutable sound of late-’80s UK club culture, that no-limits stir fry of techno, acid house, ambient, hip-hop and just about every other musical thing up to — and often including — the kitchen sink. The Glasgow trio of Ian Carmichael (keyboards), Jim McKinven (onetime guitarist in Altered Images) and chanteuse Dot Allison throw their romantic Bacharachesque ballads and glittery dance-pop ditties into the mix, resulting in smashing post-Madchester bubblegum reminiscent of a less kitschadelic Saint Etienne. Allison’s breathy voice, as sweet and wispy as candyfloss, has the added kick of a little Scottish C&W twang, which adds personality and color to the hummable hooks and twinkling melodies of songs like the terrific “White Love.” Morning Dove White is largely the handiwork of UK mixmaster general, Andrew Weatherall. With the aid of his Sabres of Paradise and Boy’s Own Productions cadres of musical manipulators, Weatherall — best known for reconfiguring an iffy Primal Scream song into the groundbreaking “Loaded” — takes One Dove’s shimmering songs and uses them as a canvas. This supernatural mélange of spooky dub F/X, ’60s spy-movie symphonics and pulsating, off-rhythm house beats provides a deep groove which contrasts and accentuates One Dove’s lighter nature. The record also boasts cameo contributions from Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes (donating an acoustic strum to “Breakdown”) and dub bass god Jah Wobble (on “There Goes the Cure”). Though plainly designed as a crossover into the pop realm, Morning Dove White is still a new-fangled kind of pop record, one that bears evidence of clubland’s remix-remake-remodel mentality. In addition to fine tracks like the lustrous “Fallen,” it includes three versions of “White Love” and two of “Breakdown.” Stephen Hague’s “radio mixes” are deliciously futuristic delights, as perfect for the Barcalounger listener as for those aiming at dancefloor hipsway.
Allison’s solo debut tones down the dance element in favor of a crystalline, pop-friendly approach. “Colour Me” introduces the basic elements: dream-pop sensibilities fueled by percussion and keyboards, breathy multi-tracked vocals, thoughtful, surrealistic lyrics, wrapped in fetching baroque embellishments (tinkling piano keys, tubular bells, found sounds). Subsequent numbers re-arrange these same components to yield stylistic variety. “Tomorrow Never Comes” and “Did I Imagine You?” trade the menace and unease of “Colour Me” for a lush, soothing melancholy. The magnificent “Close Your Eyes” matches soaring vocals and an accelerating groove, all put to bed on a lingering, whispered lullaby. The ecstatic “Mo’ Pop” covers similar terrain to even better effect. While the slow, brooding “Alpha Female” comes off well, the droning “Message Personnel” (in two disappointing mixes) fails to connect. The shadow of Brian Eno that lurks agreeably in the background on some tracks (for instance the wind sound that introduces “Tomorrow Never Comes”) rushes forward over on the meandering “I Wanna Feel the Chill” and “Morning Sun,” which sounds like a direct descendant of Another Green World. More interesting in concept than execution, these self-indulgent experiments seem out of place amid the otherwise fine song craft that mark Afterglow as a work of beauty and originality.
We Are Science is very different. Minus the pop elements, Allison is on a personal and decidedly post-modern dance floor here. Unfortunately, her ambition appears to stop with recreating the Manchester sound her way. A dispiriting collage of deconstructed influences and references, the record is self-consciously retro, from the opening track, which mimics the beginning of Morning Dove White. The innovations, such as they are, are a denser (and, occasionally, purposely lo-fi) production, some Eastern-music ornamentation, and a vague dystopian theme to the lyrics. In fairness, Allison remains an incisive vocalist and a more than capable songwriter; many of the tracks, taken on their own terms, work brilliantly. Highlights include “Substance,” a more refined and better realized version of New Order (circa 1988), the dark, haunted labyrinth of “We Are Only Science” and the wistful “Wishing Stone.” While those tracks are worth the price of admission, the album as a whole never succeeds in being even the sum of its admittedly beguiling parts.