The Sundays burst on the British scene in an artful shimmer of catchy guitar folk-pop, topped off by Harriet Wheeler’s enchanting, melody-melting little girl voice. On the London-based quartet’s debut album, David Gavurin builds subtle tension into wonderful tunes like “Can’t Be Sure” and “Hideous Towns” by picking out beguiling demi-acoustic guitar figures in songs that ache for the release of a satisfying strum. Elsewhere, minor-key contemplations (“My Finest Hour”) evoke a rainy afternoon feel with poetic skill. Unlike other bands in a related vein (the Cocteau Twins, Everything but the Girl, the impending Cranberries), the Sundays burble with energy-exploding with uplifting sweeps of melodic joy (“Skin & Bones,” “I Won”), getting faintly funky (“A Certain Someone”), even raising a cloud of mild guitar smoke now and again. The band’s lyrics — bizarre fragments of opaque introspection that reveal themselves slowly in Wheeler’s uncommon phrasing — only add to the record’s sparkling charms.
The band’s artistic growth on Blind isn’t all for the better. While increased confidence and ambition make Wheeler’s singing more technically accomplished, her development from adolescent wonder to adult aplomb deducts some of the band’s gravity-defying magic. A change in co-producers from Ray Shulman to engineer Dave Anderson barters finely attenuated atmospheric detail for a richer, more often electrically charged-but less emotionally fulfilling-sound. Beyond a disappointing (in concept and execution) cover of the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” some of the songs compare favorably to the first’s most alluring creations, but some crucial element — desire? innocence? invention? joy? — is in too short supply for Blind to meet the debut’s daunting challenge. This time, the lyrics and melodies skitter off the disc like water on a hot griddle, evaporating without a trace.