Wednesday, September 23, 1998

HYPERLITERATE HAMTRAMCK BRIT-POP

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Detroit's most unabashed Brit-pop outfit, Ethos, has finally released this long-overdue debut full-length after a year-plus of recording. For the most part, Me & You's 12 songs are worth the effort -- theirs and ours -- and there is plenty needed from both. Singer Christian Burke is part Oscar Wilde and part Morrissey, and he's got more lines per song than most bands have per album to prove it. In his sometimes fey, full-lunged delivery (think a more nasal Brett Anderson from Suede or Morrissey with a mouthful), Burke's capable of lines such as "You never come too close/for fear of having your soul debased," or, yikes, "There's lust but never trust/now all there is crust/flaking off the middle of the sheets."

The, uh, indulgence here is balanced mercifully by twinkling melodies, sharp hooks and nicely buoyant percussion. No shoegazing, midtempo wank here. These are songs, after all, dressed to impress, drunk on their own swagger, drama and charm, from the rollicking opener "I'm Sore" to the full-steam-ahead two-chord rush of "Ragdoll Decide."

Probably the only Detroit band writing ballads with a straight face, Burke unblushingly asks, "have you ever been in love?" on "For the First Time." His crooning over a wistful, engulfing melody works in its sprawling, precious way, if only because it is so precious and so sprawling.

But while Me & You shows a command of constructing amusement park rides out of power-pop, there are points when it becomes just plain overwrought. "The Kids Love Ya," is some wry Brit-crap that's just too damn smug and self-important. Sometimes it's a chorus too many, a guitar effect too clichéd, a breakdown just too damn consumed in its own drama to work, that Ethos gets hamstrung by here. But in a city full of cynics, Me & You dares to believe, sometimes embarrassingly, more often convincingly, in pop as pure sonic theater, the bigger the gestures the better. Clearly, Ethos loves playing music; maybe now they need to think about loving listening to it, too.

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