Mellow music is a throwback to ’70s cheese

Another Mellow Spring
Higher Octave
Release date: March 2001

Starting in the ’70s, the themes from cheesy cop shows have always defined the pinnacle of musical achievement. The electronic sounds were a bit cheesy, but the bass lines were awesome. Well . . . maybe not, but the French trio Mellow sure thinks so. Their new album, Another Mellow Spring is dedicated to the ’70s ambience and threatens to snag you as a fan.

Electronic tones open track one, entitled “Shinda Shima,” capturing the imagination as they sound out a simple melody. Carnival images similar to the movie “Clockwork Orange” dance through your visual cortex. The undertone of bass suggests something ominous arriving.

Sure enough, guitars spoil the equation roughly and loudly, offering the suspicion that this song was written for a porno flick. The kamikaze tune seems doomed, but a hero is on the horizon. This miracle comes in the name of Pink Floyd, who Mellow sporadically decides to emulate. This third melody starts 40 seconds into the song, but this attempt they got right. No porno guitars, no “Clockwork Orange” music, just a good old Pink Floyd rip-off. A first rate emulation is a great move topped only by the real Floyd.

“Shinda Shima” captures the essence of the entire album. It will grab your attention, throw in elements of musical genius, self-implode with electronic blunders, and leave you wondering what your opinion is. This can be a problematical method of acquiring fans.

Another Mellow Spring rips off another mellow band later in the album. “Strawberry Fields,” by the Beatles, is copied almost note for note and disguised by an electronic wobble about as convincing as a pencil mustache. Mellow uses the hard-shelled Beatles as a step up to a fantastic tune with only one scar; the listener is expecting the song to commit psychedelic suicide at any time. When this doesn’t happen, there is nothing to do but scratch you head and say, “That was pretty cool, but I have a funny feeling it was a mistake.” That itch shadows a subconscious craving you might develop for isolated segments.

These slices insinuate potential for a band founded only four years ago. Stephane Luginbuhl, Pierre Begon-Lours and Anglo-French singer Patrick Woodcock came together originally to work on a few of Woodcock’s songs The two engineers, Luginbuhl and Begon-Lours, were originally planning to help Woodcock re-record his tracks for higher quality. They both felt strongly about the throwback music and the recording trio Mellow was born.

They convened at Woodcock’s house in Paris where their incorporated ideas forced the music to evolve into new directions. “All we aimed to do was to make a record that we would like,” Woodcock explained. “There was no marketing policy, no stringent plans, just a notion of a sound that we all liked. We’re not a retro act trying to recreate the past. We’ve got no problem with the new. We just like to listen to old stuff and discover fresh things in it. And another thing, we don’t just use old machines like Lenny Kravitz so we can try and sound like we’re from the ’60s. We use new gear because we live in the ’90s.”

Despite competition from a number of labels, Mellow signed with the Parisian independent label Atmospheriques. Native charts in Paris were sacrificed in the shadow of the Big Beat Boutique in Brighton were they performed their debut. The single, “Mellow,” was released in autumn of 1998. “Les Inrockuptibles,” a major music title, voted them the number one act to watch in 1999 and invited them to play in their festival.

The real question protruding from all of this: Are they going to pin down their ’70s sound and be a good band? There is evidence both ways. Exhibit A: they rip-off other people’s music, but there’s a lot of bands out there that would do well to steal from the masters. Exhibit B: they often switch gears in the middle of a song or destroy it with annoying electronic beeps, but in-between they have some catchy mellow mixes. We can’t throw this case out, so if we want a verdict, let’s put it in front of the ultimate jury, time.