Jacques To Stars

Anthony Reynolds must have too much time on his hands. Not satisfied with merely fronting the highly successful UK band Jack, he has decided to create even drearier crooner-pop with To Stars, his second effort under the name Jacques. An obvious side project, the Jacques experience moves a bit further away from the world of British indie pop and closer to territory occupied by bands like the Tindersticks or the Divine Comedy, drawing obvious inspiration from artists like Scott Walker and, yes, Jacques Brel. Marc Almond already tried this trick with his solo career away from Soft Cell. Reynolds' work, on the other hand, is more melancholic, but with a little touch of humour just below the surface. While the first Jacques release, How To Make Love..., was a collaboration with pop deviant Momus (aka Nick Currie), this new release is much more of Reynolds' own baby. The resulting sound is rather magnificent, with sweeping strings and soaring cabaret-style vocals. Tracks like "London Loves You" or "I Won't Let You Down" show off Reynolds' expert songwriting ability. He's telling real stories with these songs, not just following a pop formula. It makes me wonder if Reynolds is having more fun with this than the six-piece band Jack. Fear not fans, Jack is still a going concern, but To Stars is a significant release unto itself - something that makes a great accompaniment to fine wine, candlelight and velvet couches. Of particular interest is the cover of Abba's "The Day Before You Came," one of the finest examples of happy music contrasted with depressing lyrics. Although I still think Blancmange's synth-pop version from the '80s was better - at least they didn't mess about with the lyrics. (Setanta)