Luke Toms: The Forever House (Island Records)
They had to come. It would have been churlish not to in the wake of Saint Rufus of Wainwright, that stream of fey young things attempting to out-Chatterton the rest. Languid and weary beyond their tender, tortured years, a straggling band of immaculate consumptives, cascading around us like broken butterflies, wonderfully attired travelers who believe in more romantic times than these.
Micha was an early English contender to the glittering crown of Foppery, and one that has successfully maintained his lavish claim. Another lurking in the wings, a zealot's glint of ambition in his haughty gaze, is Luke Toms. A Restoration dandy in 1970s guise, a creature of extraordinary confidence, who seems to disdain the faintest aspect of the dictum "less is more." His debut album, The Forever House, contains and unleashes these grand and far from blushing ambitions.
The references come flying at you thick and clever. Cheap and cheerful this album is not. It whiffs of expense, at times leaving the listener with a sense of having over-gorged on too much fine cuisine. A far from shy and retiring violet, this particular gaudy blossom wishes to be center stage, to grab the audience seductively by their collective throats and squeeze them slowly into a state of refined submission. Or rather, that's what he would have done had Island bothered to release the blessed item.
The label that almost scuppered Elbow's career years back appears to have left Toms in the waiting room of abandoned release schedules. Like all old whores, record labels see no shame in spending a lot while promising the world, but in the end, abandoning the new trick despite having wound them up to a point of fruitless anticipation.
"Can't Let You Go" begins with slow, bluesy piano, building to resemble the late Freddie Mercury in celestial collaboration with the Left Banke. Vocally Toms resembles a cultivated hybrid between Mercury's brazen sophistication and Kevin Rowland's plaintive Dexy's yelp. "Another Day" employs string-laden psychedelia a la "Excerpt from a Teenage Opera," while "Friends Reunited" builds delightfully, like some pastoral anthem. The absent ghost of Simon Warner walks once more.
Last year's debut single, "Fools with Money," unleashed Tom's flair and florid world upon an unsuspecting British public. A dizzyingly grand slice of Glam with an '"Oh You Pretty Things" style chorus, it enmeshes elements of baroque Beatles. A perfect synthesis of his latent ambition and conceit, it finds a perfect home on the album. Just when all seems to be drifting to the extreme edges of flamboyant excess, the haunting chamber instrumental "Estate Story" pulls the entire affair back from the verge of listener fatigue.
"Never Know" and "Hold This Thought" both have strong elements of mid-'70s Elton John, and as the album appears to be running out of gas, "Peace Be Myself" realigns the proceedings. Haunting, considered and smoldering, the song reveals Tom's considerable talent at its finest. Sensitive, louche, yet refined, it possesses an uncanny beauty.
It gives a perfect indication of the tone of "What's More Important," a late '60s breeze of a song that boasts a beautiful sing-along demise. It sounds like the Kinks at their London postcard best.
"Hangover Blues" brings down the heavily brocaded and scarlet curtains on these arch and glamorous proceedings. A torch song that again echoes Glam at its most refined, it sounds alarmingly new, yet is coated with exquisite references that are anything but.
You have to give Luke Toms ten out of ten for his sheer audacity. Even though he didn't quite succeed in having this album released, he didn't entirely fail. As debut albums go, this leaves most of the rivals languishing, defeated, and green with envy. At times a victim of its own grand design, it achieves the effect of a perfectly finished calling card casually cast upon a silver tray. Terribly English, a telling amalgam of the music hall and concert platform, it is ultimately worth the effort of a search for the advance version on eBay. Long after the current crop of heavy-headed fops have diminished under the weight of their own immense ambitions, this one should have progressed upwards towards a new Bohemia, if disappointment hasn't crushed his flamboyant heart.
Treat yourself to this abandoned and truncated spear of grand ambition. Pray that Luke Toms has sufficient gall to raise another stab at being fabulous and absolute, and curse Island Records for having enough vision to complete this album, but not enough to release the damned thing.