When we spoke to esteemed pop singer/songwriter Bleu McAuley back in September, he expressed a fair amount of excitement about his forthcoming vinyl, Besides, a collection of unreleased tracks, or what we used to call b-sides back when we were still killing our dinner with rocks. (That is what folks did prior to iTunes, correct?) Released on limited-edition blue vinyl through Bleu’s website and now available digitally, Besides collects tracks that were, for various reasons, dropped from the final versions of his last two records, A Watched Pot and Four. As Bleu told us in the interview, “it’s not a throwaway b-sides type of thing… I really [want] it to hold up as a real piece of work.”
Happily, it does – and what’s better, it functions as an alternate-world Bleu best-of from some parallel dimension. Most odds-and-sods collections exhibit, to some degree, the full spectrum of the artists’ talents, often ping-ponging between genres with abandon; Besides does this, yes, and as a result it sounds a bit more restless and less consistent (in tone, that is) than most Bleu albums, but it provides an appealing glimpse into the artist’s fidgety muse and, more importantly, collects a bunch of really cool Bleu tracks in one place.
And so we’re treated to the requisite number of exquisitely melodic power-pop ballads, the likes of which would’ve sounded comfortable on those last couple of records; one, “How Blue”, even did, and if the alternate mix presented here is a little sparser and staccato than the smooth-flowing album mix from Four, it shines a bright spotlight on Bleu’s silky falsetto in a way that the original doesn’t. Still others have clear doppelgangers from Bleu’s own discography: “Don’t Take It Personally” recalls the melody and chord structure of Redhead‘s “You Know, I Know, You Know”, and Bleu’s shockingly adept takes on pop-country (“The Blame Game”, “Can’t Be That Bad (If It Feels This Good)”), much like Watched Pot‘s “Boy Meets Girl”, suggest that with an affected baritone drawl and a few more lyrics about America and beer, McAuley could clean up at the CMT Awards.
And then, elsewhere, Bleu tosses us a few curveballs. Day-glo vintage dance-pop influences pop up on “When the Other Shoe Falls” and “Blow Up the Radio”, the former recalling the glory days of Erasure and Wham! ably enough to be mistaken for a refuge from that bygone era, the latter finding the logical midpoint between disco and modern electro-pop with its stuttering rhythms and spiralling strings. (“Shoe Falls”, in particular, is such a deliciously melodic slab of 1987 that Andy Bell himself should have his eye on Bleu’s songwriting talents.) Meanwhile, the spirited shuffle and layered vocals of “Mailman’s Son” recall Revolver-era Beatles nicely, and “When the Dog Day Comes” flirts with orchestral chamber-pop. It’s all very varied and chameleonic, but it always sounds like Bleu, crisp production, soaring tenor and all.
During that interview, Bleu referred to Besides as “really just for the hardcore fans”. And they’ll eat it up, sure, but I’d like to respectfully disagree with the artist: given the melodic gifts and genre pastiche on display here, Besides just might be the gateway necessary for non-fans to discover a favorite new artist. Bleu does, after all, offer a little something for everyone.