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Are You The Sick Passenger?

King Radio
Are You The Sick Passenger?
(SpiritHouse Records)

I don't think that anyone would have ever accused The Scud Mountain Boys of being a pop group, but former member Frank Padellaro has indeed gone that route with his 3rd release under the King Radio moniker. Mixing part Brian Wilson, part Being There-era Wilco, and part High Llamas (yeah, it gets pretty string-laden at times), this is light orchestrated pop music that sounds like it could have been created at any point in the past 30 years or so.

The record is actually at its best musically when it keeps some of the embelishments down in number. The opener of "Introduction" sets a good pace for the disc with subdued strings and flutes backing swirling guitars, a repetitive bassline and quiet percussion. Padellaro's vocals on the track aptly sound like he's just getting going, as they crack several time and the track dissolves into soft instrumental meanderings.

In other places, the Sean O'Hagan feel is pretty evident. Both "Famous Umbrellas" and "Pistil And The Stamen" mix both Rhodes organ and other keyboards along with plenty of string flourishes and light guitars and paired with soft vocals of Padellaro they come off as pretty darn syrupy. There are places, though, where the twee-factor seems to really work for the group while going in their own direction. "Busman's Holiday" takes some of the elements from the first track on the album (prominent bass and flute) and mixes in a touch of organ and bouncy percussion for a track that has a deft touch and completely sticks in your head. Even the quiet album-titled track "The Sick Passenger" strips things down to just melancholy strings and guitar and comes out the better for it with the room to breathe. In the end, Are You The Sick Passenger? is an entertaining album with many things going for it, but it seems to often go for the obvious when a lighter touch would have worked just fine. If you're into orchestral-ish pop that isn't too moody or dark, King Radio might be right up your alley though.

Rating: 6.75