Bear in mind I speak as a serious, longtime fan of Joe Jackson, and one who still finds pleasure in the odd Haircut 100 single, when I say that William Pears lead singer Thierry Dubois sounds like he’s singing through his nose. One could be charitable and assume that singing in a second language contributed to this. The band is French, but all but two of the songs are sung in English. However, even if that were so, it doesn’t make the singing sound any better.
And it’s the singer, not the song. I know this is true, because Survivor told me, and why would a prime-cut, classy pop/rock act like that lie? But seriously — okay, it’s the song too. But it’s also the singer. Consider the great male power-pop singers of the past 35 years. An arbitrary (and limited) list would include John Lennon, Glenn Tilbrook, Andy Partridge, and Colin Moulding. And of course, Limahl and Captain Sensible. (Okay, I’m kidding about the last two.) What do those men have in common (I mean, besides the obvious thing that all men have in common)? They are all routinely and rightly praised for their song craft, yet I have rarely seen as much focus placed on their performances as vocalists. These men were and are possessed of alternately poignant, silly, intimate, and earnest instruments that sweeten their sounds so that they pour easily into the ear.
Which brings me to the William Pears (they’re a band, not a man), a group that is clearly and audibly influenced by the groups of the above men and striving to emulate them, especially XTC and the Beatles. The songwriting is quite strong, if not particularly ambitious. The starter “Good Old Sun” uses (sigh) those good old “Wild Thing” chords, but what the hell, it uses them tastefully. But the song runs into the same wall of Dubois’s voice that stops much of the album. Which is too bad, really, because it kept me from fully enjoying what is otherwise a well-made sequence of tracks. But actually, even with a more palatable singer, the William Pears still wouldn’t be all that fresh. This album is the kind of music your enjoyment of which will depend upon how much you enjoy playing “spot the influence”. An XTC-like vocal inflection here, a (now here’s a new sound) backwards tape sound there, a Beatles bass riff or guitar part everywhere…. It depends a little too heavily on its ancestors to stand on its own. It sounds like a cloned pear would probably taste: someone got all the ingredients right but didn’t know how to make it really juicy.