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About Us

Kama Sutra 2068
Released: July 1973
Chart Peak: #29
Weeks Charted: 19

Steve LoveBrian MadeyIan LloydMichael BrownIt is sad enough that the Beatles' legacy should be most ostensibly carried on by so patently shallow and imitative a group as the Raspberries; what's more depressing is that they should be seriously taken as anything more than sops to our collective and shameful nostalgia. It is, however, important for what the Beatles stood for -- a voracity for all kinds of music, including classical, and an ability to incorporate diversity and change within formal limits -- be perpetuated, and I can think of no worthier candidates than Stories. Their Beatles sensibility is not contrived or even unseasoned; in Michael Brown, ex-Left Banke composer and keyboard man and (until his recent, abrupt departure) leader of Stories, it has been incubating for years.

About Us is a complete vindication of the flawed promise of Stories, their first album. The band is now capable of technically supporting all those wonderful sonorities. Michael Brown is surely one of the half-dozen most inventive melodists alive, and at the very least, Ian Lloyd, lyricist, bassist and singer, Brian Madey, drummer, and Steve Love, guitarist, are his perfect means. Lloyd grows out of the Rogers/McCartney school of English high tenors and Madey plays with the solidity of Ringo Starr, but more aggressively. Love, in particular, has turned into one of the most arresting new rock guitarists I've heard.

"Darling," the opening cut, establishes the approach. The band rocks harder than the Left Banke ever did, but without sacrificing the exotic, sinuous, unpredictable quality of that music. A balalaika-like acoustic guitar dresses the melody, which is interrupted by some crashing guitar chords; you feel like standing up and saluting. The song ends on a screaming dissonance. "Don't Ever Let Me Down" is less devious, sporting most noticeably a roller-coaster of a guitar break. "Love Is in Motion" is highly textured but feathery; it opens with some avian whistling and closes with the pealing of guitars (wedding bells?). In between, with the help of Ian's delicate vocal and an absurdly simple but irresistible piano line, it captures the giddiness of new love. "Hey France," which really means "Hey Friends" (Lloyd has a habit of interchanging similar-sounding words), recalls "She's A Woman." Its most striking facet is a descending line which gathers the dispersed instruments and brings them to converge implosively at a single point. An aspiring guitar figure resolves into a mellotron blur.

The album's masterpiece is "Please Please," which offers love as some higher calling and which is almost sonata-like in its construction. Brown plays piano at first as though it were a Stephen Foster son he was introducing; this soon gives way to the syncopation of the Marlboro jingle. Lloyd eloquently states, then repeats the theme, which is then tersely skewed by Love. Some Byrds harmonies introduce a new theme, subject to further modification; the guitar restates the opening, slips into a descending scale which climbs back up to a single hammering note. The anger bursts, and Ian returns alone, more vulnerable this time, with only Michael's piano to fill it out. Before we know it, we're back in Marlboro country for one more run-through; the guitar for the last time describes its parabola, and the song ends, never quite having gotten us back to home base.

Side two, half-intentionally, lacks the cohesion of side one. "Changes Have Begun," Steve Love's sole writing effort, doesn't belong with the rest of the album; though it is one of the band's most powerful live numbers, in this context it is a bit of East Coast beach blanket banality. "Circles" is a short instrumental of Michael's, part honky-tonk, part hoedown. "Believe Me" is somewhat lightweight, but "Words" is an enchanted fairy tale, a la Bernstein or Prokofiev, laced with harpsichord and kettle drums. Lloyd displays here a lyricist's most essential gift -- the ability to produce a verbal approximation of the music's ambience. It is also nice to hear Ian's lower register.

"Top of the City" is Stories' most straight-ahead rocker. Released as a single several months before About Us, its two solo guitar choruses are Steve's baptism of fire. "Down Time Blooze" is a minute's worth of studio foolery which is meant to convey the anguish the band went through while recording. In fact, it succeeds only in rending the fabric which they so carefully wove throughout the rest of the album.

Aside from some queasy electronic blips, only Ian's voice and Michael's voice appear on "What Comes After," a question which Ian's and Michael's splitting leaves unanswered. What we do know is that on About Us Stories is using music to express what only music can express. Rather than attempting to re-create other moods or experiences, their music creates its own state of feeling.

- Ben Gerson, Rolling Stone, 5/10/73.

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Bonus Reviews!

Stories continue to owe something to the Beatles -- they have no corner on that, of course -- and continue to perform a whole lot better than they write. I don't know why it hasn't occurred to them to do someone else's songs or to find someone who can write lyrics, but until they do one or the other, you'll waste your time and energy trying to catch the words. Actually, their melodies aren't bad, once they run them through the arrangements. The sound is snappy and bright, built around Ian Lloyd's high, clear vocals -- sounding less like McCartney here than in the previous album -- and Michael Brown's soaring embellishments on piano, organ, and mellotron. Stories do not indulge in ten-minute drum solos, or even in one-minute guitar solos; they are tight, bright, and fairly light, and their performances keep getting better.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 12/73.

Pushing rock by a clean-sounding British act still seeking its first major LP break. Best cuts: "Please, Please," "Love Is In Motion."

- Billboard, 1973.

The second Stories album melded ornate Anglo-pop with ever-so-slight art-pop tendencies. Loaded with great melodies and smart arrangements. Fans of Badfinger and Beatles-style pop/rock should love this outing. It was a commercial sleeper until the band's version of Hot Chocolate's "Brother Louie" became a number one hit. Unfortunately, the song didn't resemble anything else on the album. Highlights include "Darling," "Hey France," "Please Please," "What Comes After," and "Top of the City." This disc may be hard to find, since their reissue label has historically done little to promote reissue product. * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Stories' second album, About Us, put the band over the top with its No. 1 cover of Hot Chocolate's "Brother Louie" which was actually released as a single and appended to the album when it hit big, which was after Stories co-founder, keyboardist/songwriter Michael Brown, left the group. * * * * 1/2

- Mike Greenfield, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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