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Current concise reviews of the albums by adult alternative, contemporary, and crossover artists. Images of album artwork and links to both internet-based resources are always included. Click on the title to view the article.

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Routines CD Cover
Image © Series 8 Records 2006

Helene Image © Series 8 Records 2006


(08 July 2006) Helene is a band fronted by vocalist Helene Dineen, and made up of Graham (guitar, vocals), Ian (guitars), Annemarie (bass) and James (drums). They are clearly a band on first name terms.

Routines (Series 8 (UK) SER001CD, 2006) is the band's second album following their 2002 debut Postcard, a disc Q mentioned in the same breath as Mazzy Star and The Velvet Underground. So it's perhaps surprisingly that following such an accolade, the new CD shows a marked change in direction with much more of a country feel to a number of the songs, and some pared back arrangements all of which serves to throw Helene's soft, childlike voice even further to the fore than was the case with their debut.

Where the simple arrangements work, say on the spooky and intimately hypnotic "Routines" the result is impressive, and the country-tinged songs like the short opener "First Last Forever," the slide guitar washed "Could I Go Backwards," and "Nothing To You" are pleasant enough, and "This Is All We Have To Know" has a gorgeous little chorus.

Certainly fans of Helene's voice are going to enjoy this album immensely. But that doesn't hide the fact that there's a problem underlying the whole album, and that's the arrangement of the songs. It's said that whilst a good arrangement can rescue a poor song, a poor arrangement can bury the very best written work.

As an example, "Apostille" is the strongest piece of writing on the disc by some distance, a really impressive song, but sadly it's rendered virtually unlistenable by the dreadfully repetitive 4:4 rhythm in which every instrument just pounds away on every beat throughout. It's one of the most ill-judged arrangements in a long, long time, and the sin is repeated on sections of both "Forever In A Day" and on "O Tina." Elsewhere, a number of the songs remain dynamically flat because there's no variation of arrangement within a piece. A song starts, continues in exactly the same way, and then just stops.

Whilst the band should be applauded for trying something new and not simply repeating their debut album, greater thought and imagination with the arrangements, could well have made this something special. Their shift of musical emphasis has basically proved successful as the country tinged tracks are among the most enjoyable on the disc, though perhaps more Cowboy Junkies than Mazzy Star this time around.

You can order this CD directly from the label here. Ultimately, whether you get on with Routines will largely depend on how you feel about Helene's voice.--Jamie Field in Hereford, England

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