Bands like Allegro Fudge make life hard for reviewers. They do a lot of things very well, so you feel awful pointing out the things they don’t. And yet, their shortcomings are interesting, because they’re the same ones which weigh down much of the pop music being made in this country right now: on an essential public service like this site, these things need pointing out.
A primer: Allegro Fudge are five Bangalore boys (or two boys and a girl, depending on where you look), who play, according to them, “fresh acoustic music.” They have a dickyful of material up for streaming on their page, and most of it is worth a listen or three. They say they cover styles from funk to country, as indeed they do, but this genre-hopping is academic, self-conscious – oh look, this is our rock song, that’s our blues song, that there is our jazz song – and doesn’t go farther than being superficial dabbling: at heart, their music is clean-cut, un-weird, un-scary, accomplished, radio-friendly, classic MTV-friendly pop.
And this is fundamental to the whole Allegro Fudge experience: how much you like them will be wholly determined by how tolerant you are of that. They draw their sense of arrangements and dynamics strictly from the stuff of huge Billboard hits, with comfortable melodies, easy emotions, tidy and unsurprising production, giving in now and then to the temptation of endless repetition for the benefit of sentimental, lighter-waving drunks: Maximum City goes on for a full two minutes after it has exhausted its ideas, with a singalong chorus, a start-stop chorus, an a capella chorus etc.; stuff like this is designed for crowds who are happy to co-operate without thinking too deeply about things like restraint. And still, despite this, they’re good enough that this same chorus has a tinkling circular piano line propping it up that is a little piece of pure magic.
Fudge songwriting isn’t a triumph of inspiration, then, but Fudge playing very often is: for every song that doesn’t add up to a legitimate timeless classic, there are any number of teeny thrilling parts and fills and riffs which stand well above what most groups are capable of. So they have a song called – sigh – Rock all Night, which has – sigh – “lead” vocals which sound like something that would come out of a song called “Rock all Night”, but the groove on it is a delight, as are the smoking hot piano and reggae-timed, on-the-offs rhythm guitar. Best, the song breaks down into a slinky, twitchy shuffle halfway through, full of scat noises and zoopy bass and then, with perfect timing, just to add to its growing pile of riches, throws in Beatles backing vocals: the effect isn’t anything short of exquisite, and you’re sucked in until you either don’t remember, or don’t care, that the group ultimately never strays out of the rigid bounds of mainstream pop convention.
And there’s more of this, much more: City of Sin has its mean, deft riff and its hip-breaker of a big, fat drum track, its jazzy changes, its squiggly-wiggly bassline, and that plastic-soul solo which’d give the coolest kid goosebumps. The Enchantress and the Hillbillies would melt the Phishiest heart. Every harmony is sung with choir-like precision. And, crucially, their eminent musical abilities are always laid out in service of their songs: there is no tasteless showboating, nothing which comes across as overt technical muscle-flexing. Whatever their weaknesses are as songwriters, they make up for them as a band. The Fudge ought to be a lesson in ensemble playing.
Giftedness comes in many forms. The basic Allegro Fudge premise – while happy news in this land of stadium-rock mouth-breathers – doesn’t deliver anything in terms of originality; neither is it born of any special vision. Their playing, on the other hand, frequently transcends the ordinary to achieve very real brilliance. The Fudge are in the strange position of being a group the sum of whose parts are greater than the whole. And yet, all these outstanding little shiny bits and bobs contain so much talent, skill and promise that I can’t help but wonder what the result would be if they set their sights away from manufacturing big-hit cliché and turned to letting their heads wander to odder, wilder places. Pretty formidable, I should think.