Recorded over the past few years and recently released to critical acclaim in the U.K., Marjorie Fair's debut album, Self Help Serenade, is finally seeing U.S. release. One can assume its rich mix of rock-critic influences (Brian Wilson, Badfinger, Red House Painters, Minibar) will doom it to minor-league cult status. The Rob Schnapf production (Beck, Elliott Smith) occasionally homogenizes in true Abbey Road fashion with too-slick background vocals and a dully lit orchestral wall. However, singer-songwriter Evan Slamka mostly beats back these encroachments with his fine-honed lyrical sense, which keeps these songs emotionally involved from the alienation of "How Can You Laugh" to the junkie-observant "Cracks in the Walls." Though Slamka has his dark moments, he bathes his sentiments in fleeting melodies and arrangements that evoke spacey, sunny, lazy afternoons. If early-'70s Pink Floyd had preferred the pop song to the expanded freakout, it might have added up to something like this.
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