New Zealand Nostalgia
Lawrence Arabia – the alter ego of James Milne – is somewhat of a New Zealand pop institution. Following stints in indie-pop bands the Brunettes and the Ruby Suns, Mr Arabia went on to release his self-titled début album, the award-winning 'Chant Darling' and 2012's 'The Sparrow', quietly becoming a first-rate purveyor of sparkling indie-pop laden with witty lyrics, tasteful arrangements and a humour that is unmistakeably 'New Zealand'.
This rich tradition is continued on Lawrence Arabia's fourth full-length, 'Absolute Truth'. This collection of well-crafted indie pop tunes is as an ode to nostalgia, recklessness and youth that will, at first listen, draw obvious comparisons to The Beatles and Harry Nilsson, with a touch of ABBA and 70's disco on single 'Another Century'. The key to these lofty comparisons is the fact that these songs sound simultaneously retro and timeless thanks to the simple-but-effective arrangements and the quirky-but-clever melodies.
Musically, 'Absolute Truth' is very clever, but it's the album's lyrics that really shine. This is nostalgia without the faux-Americana that so many non-American bands attempt - lyrics like "You really were an arsehole that day" (Sweet Dissatisfaction) and "Sleeping on the deck by the recycling" (What Became of That Angry Young Man) ensure that this album remains inherently 'New Zealand'. While the album seems at first glance a celebration of the nostalgia for youth, at times Mr Arabia seems almost disdainful for his former self, and avoiding the 'rose-tinted glasses' approach that so many artists take lends his lyrics an authentic, honest, and bitter-sweet edge.
While I'm sure that Lawrence Arabia would like to appear that he stumbles nonchalantly through his semi-autobiographical tales of romance, hangovers and former loves, the reality is he's incredibly sure footed. His sparkling melodies sit atop some brilliant arrangements that contain almost no bloat, with each violin swell and piano riff feeling essential.
This album is an example of a seasoned songwriter using his talent to great effect. This album delivers precisely what it means to – a bitter-sweet trip through youth, love, and heartbreak – and it delivers it well.