Scott 4 were hyped for greatness a few years back and were dropped unceremoniously by V2 when the greatness wasn't achieved overnight. Who knew that they would quietly return with an album that is not only their own best work, but clearly, already, proves to be one of the best albums of 2002? Thus, European Punks LP, their first album since 1999 may seem just a tad bit inconspicuous, but, believe me, there's no reason to think any lesser of it. .
Let's get the negatives out of the way first, so that we can focus on what is oh-so right about this record. European Punks LP, despite its intentions, is not a concept album. Though the notes on the album hint that this is a story about some punks in search of their very own Punk Valhalla, and the titles seem to go along with the story, upon listening, the plot seems to be lost. Still, the story's funny enough, and, to be fair, the album does return to themes and sounds throughout the album, so let's give Scott 4 and Magic Car for at least trying to create a thorough concept.
For the album, Scott 4 are joined by Magic Car, a mysterious folk-gospel troupe, and they add a definite dimension to Scott 4's prog-rock pop tendencies. Magic Car provide three of their own tracks, as do Scott 4, and they collaborate together on three tracks. Very democratic of them. In fact, its the variety that this arrangement offers helps keep the album from leaning too heavily into one particular, overwhelming style. Magic Car's contributions are quiet numbers, somewhat reminiscent of Gorky's Zygotic Mynki's more recent folky experiments.
European Punks LP opens with the title track, with Scott Blixen singing "I'm a Lego man in a yellow Viking jumpsuit/Don't put my woman down, cuz it's not too cute." This song serves as a fanfare for the rest of the album; at 10 minutes, it's somewhat of a spoiler for the rest of the album, but oh, what a spoiler it is! Taking lines from "Stillness" and musical passages from the rest of songs, it's an enthralling little number that makes you want to hear more, though at times you'll think "didn't I hear this already," which provides a little bit of annoyance the first time you listen.
The song fades into Magic Car's folk-choir jaunt, "Shiny Cattle," which provides a nice, lighter element to the heavy prog of "European Punks." This number is very reminiscent of the things that made James great oh-so many years ago--sing-songy songs played slightly acoustic that make you want to join in. The choir backing them certainly don't help to quell your desire to sing the chorus.
"For Teens in the Meantime" follows, and if it sounds familiar to you, it should; musically speaking, it's very similar to Take That's "Back for Good," and is a very tender, loving ballad. It's followed by a coda, "For Teens in the Springtime" that makes the song one of the loveliest prog-pop ballads you'll ever hear.
"Stillness" is Magic Car's country-soul number. Reminiscent of His Name is Alive's recent turn towards R&B, it's a very sublime number, and its use of pedal steel guitar makes it as heavy and heavenly as Scott 4's own offerings. Scott 4's prog-rock tendencies haven't dissipated, either; "In the Time of Pop and Roll" is the best hit that ELO never had. "In the Nursery at Night and Further On" is a jazzy little number that seems to be a bit reminiscent of ambient musicians In the Nursery. "Valhalla" closes the album, a country tune which brings the "concept" to a close, and it's a gorgeous country-prog number that seems to cut off mid-song.
European Punks LP is one of those records that will mystify you. It's a beautiful record, yet, it's also rather eccentric in nature, simply because I dare say you've not heard anything quite like this. Setting aside its weak "concept album" aspirations, European Punks LP is a most enjoyable anomaly. To be honest, I'd dare say they've created their own magical style, unclassifiable to the end, eccentric to the fore, and utterly beautiful all around. We're going to be the first ones to say so, but I'm sensing this record having a place in "Top Ten Albums of 2002" lists, and most deservedly so. This record also can't help but whet your appetite for both Scott 4 and Magic Car's next albums.