Would-Be-Goods - Brief Lives

matcd017  /  March 2002
Would-Be-Goods - Brief Lives
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Would-Be-Goods - Brief Lives

matcd017  /  March 2002

Long-awaited third album from revered English act Would-Be-Goods. Originally signed to Mike Alway's él record label, Would-Be-Goods were the perfect representation of that label's legendary and unique style. Based around the vocal talents and songwriting skills of Jessica Griffin, a critically acclaimed debut album "The Camera Loves Me" was recorded with musical backing from label-mates The Monochrome Set. The band's cult status around the world grew over the years, and the Japanese label Polystar released a second album "Mondo" in 1992. Last year, following the addition of Peter Momtchiloff (ex-Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research) on lead guitar, the band set forth to write and record songs for their eagerly anticipated third album. "Brief Lives" features sixteen outstanding songs across which Griffin spins a world peopled with crazed historical characters, mysterious cabaret performers and arch sophisticates. Lovers meet and part before a backdrop of chromed sports cars and elegant coffee bars, soundtracked by Momtchiloff's brilliantly expressive guitar. The perfectly monikered Orson Presence adds piano, organ, harpsichord, vibraphone and strings, while Jessica's mother contributes violin and mandolin on two tracks. Rich with imagination, "Brief Lives" is everything that is sorely missing in the world of pop music today.

  1. Mystery Jones
  2. Bad Lord Byron
  3. Vivre sa vie
  4. Flashman
  5. Esperanza
  6. Richard III
  7. A Season In Hell
  8. Fancy Man
  9. Dilettante
  10. Butterfly Kiss
  11. Diminuendo
  12. Rich And Strange
  13. Whitsun Bride
  14. Trying To Be Bad
  15. Elegant Rascal
  16. 1999


Fey-watchers will applaud the release of Brief Lives, which takes the Would-be-goods' catalogue up to three albums in 14 years. Jessica Griffin, the well-spoken former banker who launched the band with her sister Jackie, is now the sole member, but that loss has had no tangible effect on the music. It remains so fragile you hardly dare breathe while the CD is playing. Peter Momtchiloff on guitar and Orson Presence on harpsichord create a shimmering setting, but the pleasure of Brief Lives is Jessica's depiction of an upper-crust home counties England that is as extinct as Morrissey's doleful north. She sings, in frail alto with virtually no range, of 'elegant rascals' who 'live in flats in the Elephant and Castle'. In accents of polite horror, she also introduces 'a pretty debutante' who is reduced to living, God forbid, in a cheap hotel. Marvelous stuff. 4/5 stars   --The Guardian
Not many bands could survive a near-ten year layoff between full-length releases and survive this well intact, but it’s obvious that Jessica Griffin and her Would-Be-Goods are not the common guitar-pop band. Having dropped off the radar of the British twee-pop scene she helped create, Griffin follows up a few years of scattered live performances and E.P.’s worth of material with a remarkably solid set of shimmering guitar tunes and vignettes cataloguing the whimsical travails of an impressive array of lonely and self-absorbed characters. Her lyrical or melodic sense not dulled by the years of inactivity, the songs crackle with a vibrancy and maturity that arguably rivals her work from a decade earlier. Joined by guitarist Peter Momtchiloff (formerly of twee-pop legends Heavenly), the sixteen songs bound from the early Beatles vigor of “Dilettante” and “Flashman” to the sweetly swinging “Butterfly Kiss” and the sorrowful “Whitsun Bride,” as Griffin cuts to the essence of her stories in a style reminiscent of Ray Davies. All in all, Brief Lives is a fine testament to Griffin’s consistency as a songwriter and resiliency as an artist.   --All Music Guide
If only reality were as colourful as the lives of the people who populate Would-Be-Goods songs, all of them living in, if not opulent wealth, at least the most dignified squalor. Since becoming the crown jewel of the enigmatic, short-lived él Records in 1988, the songs of group mastermind Jessica Arah have provided her idealisation of various fantasy worlds. “Brief Lives” is only the third Would-Be-Goods album in over 13 years, and is better even than the cult-classic debut, “The Camera Loves Me”. Featuring former members of Heavenly and Razorcuts, it trades the previous albums’ hermetical snow-globe polish for a rougher, livelier sound that, in terms of quintessential Englishness, is closer to “Village Green” than "White Cliffs of Dover." This is a worthy companion to your Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian collections.   --Careless Talk Costs Lives
Jessica’s smart words, lush baroque pop, and stylish taste are in full force on this, her third LP and first new one in ages. I’m preparing champagne cocktails, sorting my diamond collection, and reading situationist poems to “Vivre Sa Vie,” “Elegant Rascal,” and “Butterfly Kiss.” Welcome back, Jessica.   --Chickfactor
Classy, elegant pop tunes with a wispy European air, there's a definite Francoise Hardy feel to this beautifully laid-back album from the Would-Be-Goods. Opener 'Mystery Jones' is Heavenly-esque in stature (unsurprising given the pedigree of the Would-Be-Goods' members), but it's on 'Bad Lord Byron', with its swaying strings and wonderfully elegant vocal style, that the band really come into their own. The music here is incredibly pretty, carefully arranged, and has a curious spring-like something to it that's hard to place but so pleasing to hear. Jessica Griffin's voice, a sultry, measured tone that sounds both educated and sensuous, combined with deftly underpronounced arrangements, are the key to the success here. 'Esperanza' is almost a lullaby in its sound, yet the lyrics are clever, witty and biting, disguised cleverly by the Mediterranean sounding strings. 'A Season In Hell', too, is sinister but sung with the voice of a wide-eyed little girl. The effect is certainly mesmerising, leaving one consumed by the lyrics. Highlight, though, is the French 'Vivre sa vie'. It starts very slowly, very quietly, and is almost angelic in its tone, but then it bursts into such a wonderful chorus, which reminds me of 'California Dreaming' with its sense of gorgeous escapism, that it's somehow embedded itself completely in my psyche. This is a wonderful little gem of a record. Unassuming, low-key, but deliciously compelling, it reminds me of Melys' quieter moments, Carole King and a whole legion of French songstresses. And as such it's perfectly lovely.   --Strange Fruit
This is the third album for the band who has enjoyed quite a bit of international success. Singer/songwriter Jessica Griffin brings a rather Nico-esque style to a band that plays with understated French-pop sound that works so well overseas and gets lukewarm reception stateside. Anyone who really wants to expand her musical horizons should find this band’s work. The chord progressions are inventive without damaging our sensibilities, and the voice of Griffin is simply impossible to ignore. A+ or something.   --Verbicide Magazine
Their third album of blissfully self-assured pop narratives (and first since 1993), the Would-Be-Goods again pick at the mantle largely vacated by songwriters like Ray Davies and Morrisey and dive headlong into a varied and vigorous set of songs rooted in whimsical mystery. Not that there aren’t more than enough entrants to that hallowed, patently British school, of songwriting, but few truly capture the charm and grace of the masters of that genre as the Would-Be-Goods. Although having roots in the 1980’s and the now deceased el label, the Would-Be-Goods lived on in the memories of their fans (many of which were curiously located in Japan) and on their out-of-print recordings, only returning to the scene in the spring of 2001. With lead vocalist Jessica Griffin’s vocals still lined with intrigue and intonation, guitarist Peter Momtchiloff’s (of seminal twee-popsters Heavenly) perfectly glistening guitar lines creating just the right emotional ether for the narrative drama, and the songs falling like rapid fire short stories, these entries hit as hard as they did in their heyday and on just as many different levels. From the opening shifting chord changes of “Mystery Jones” to the quieting vibraphone touches of “Fancy Man,” characters are caught in various stages of awkwardness and uncertainty, paired with a melodic sensibility that serves as a sonic receipt that makes sure that the storyline will unfold in your head as you hum the words for days afterward. Case in point, the big rolling piano grooves of “Richard III” or the sing-songy folksiness of “1999” are songs that little need the curiosity of their storylines to worm their way into your mind. Further, as sad swirling strings balance the effervescent early-Beatles energy of tracks like “Flashman” and “Dilettante,” the songwriting never becomes redundant and displays a mastery of the addition and subtraction of the right elements. Just as powerful when reduced to the basic elements of guitar and voice, the gorgeously lilting “Esperanza” finds a strange earnestness, and the mournful guitar and mandolin of “Whitsun Bride” are beautifully compact windows into the lives of desperate characters. Whether depicting hopeful lovers in the softly swinging “Butterfly Kiss” or breaking into French to hold the rhyme scheme of the lonely artist vignette in “Diminuendo,” Griffin’s tales unfold with delicacy and great attention to detail, drawing you in with melody and wit. More than anything, though, Griffin’s songwriting is recognizable for its deeply mysterious melodies, constantly bending and shifting around minor chord changes and drawing the listener in with the inherent sadness of the characters dwelling inside her songs. In short, you’d be hard pressed to find a better guitar-pop album released this year. Even if it ultimately breaks little new ground, the songs are nearly perfect entries into the classic pop canon and genuinely create an environment where listeners can lose themselves in a catchy narrative. Everything lines up exceedingly well – a near perfect marriage of lyric, melody, and aesthetic. As such, the 16 tracks cover enough territory that repeated listens are nearly obligatory to truly capture the totality of content encoded in each song.   --Delusions of Adequacy
The Would-Be-Goods Brief Lives is one of those rare joys—an album in which nearly every track is just as enjoyable as the next. Crooner Jessica Griffin will no doubt remind some listeners of Dominique Durand from Ivy, while the music can best be desribed as '60s-inspired British pop. The violins on "Bad Lord Byron" transport audiences back to medieval times, while "Vivre Sa Vie" adds an interesting twist. With so much attention paid to the current crop of male, guitar-oriented English bands, the pop genius of the Would-Be-Goods may get overlooked. All the same, Brief Lives packs the sort of transcendental delivery needed to defy the harsh environment.   --Rockpile Magazine