South: Up Close and Personal


Like many of their British counterparts which seem initially indistinguishable to the American ear, South manages to get endlessly compartmentalized and compared to other bands of their era. And as unfair as it may seem to their diehard fans, the comparisons to bands such as Travis, Coldplay, Muse and others seem entirely warranted – even if slightly misinformed. However, the one other band that people seem to compare them to is Starsailor which should be fairly obvious to audiophiles, mainly because both bands also pay a great debt to Jeff Buckley. (It should be no surprise that during the interview which appears on this set, Jamie McDonald confesses that if he were on a deserted island that he would have The Beatles’ amazing White Album along with Jeff Buckley’s Grace.  And if you listen to South’s Joel Cadbury and Starsailor’s James Walsh, don’t they sound similar – at least momentarily – to Jeff Buckley?

Of course, the main problem with many British bands trying to make it big in the States is that they’re almost always so easily comparable to the American audience. If the casual fan can’t seem to tell the difference between your band and Keane, South, Muse, Oasis, Starsailor and the rest, then you’ll probably be doomed to one hit wonder status, if not obscurity and minor hits. Even The Verve have seemingly suffered the unfortunate fate of one hit wonder in the States, and they have three amazing full-length albums (and a fairly decent collection of B-sides) which sound like nothing you’d ever hear in American pop music.
Ideally, this collection of B sides, live recordings from iTunes and Virgin Digital, plus rare concert footage is meant to forge an individual identity for a band that’s constantly lumped into a monolithic-seeming group. And although the attempt is earnest and should be applauded for its earnestness, I’m not entirely certain it will work to set South apart from their Brit-pop counterparts.

The DVD concert footage is professionally shot and looks much like any of the concert footage you would have seen over the past five or ten years – including that short-lived concert show that was on ABC back in the early 90s. And most importantly, South – thanks to incredible sound engineering and talent – sound amazing. For the most part the songs you’ll hear in concert sound as close to replicating their studio work as humanly possible. But the lack of interesting camera angles becomes tiring. The same six or seven angles were used repetitiously, and it seems odd not to see a single crowd reaction shot. In addition to the live material, there are some interview segments, and rather colorless bonus material that do little to spice things up, so in the end, despite the lack of camera ingenuity, the concert footage is what wins out over everything else.

The companion album includes acoustic recordings that make it seem as if South were playing in your own living room. A handful of songs rock such as “You Are One,” “Paint the Silence” and “Shallow” but it’s more of the mellow, relaxed rock of their Brit-pop counterparts. Cadbury repeatedly displays at times an ethereal and beautiful voice that manages to sound simultaneously soulful and wearied on songs such as “Paint the Silence,” “Loosen Your Hold” and “Stay Close.” The strangest moments come during their cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and their “Autumn Morning.” Although it further expands their sound, adding electronic blips, beeps and boops, it’s a move that countless other bands have attempted and it manages to make them sound a bit like the band Air – and yet they’re still pretty interesting because they’re catchy. 

South may not break out of the Brit-pop mold but their recent attempt to make a unique name for themselves is compelling enough to give a listen.

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