Flowers for Algernon bloomed brightly in the Edinburgh garden for a few years until founding member Jim Igoe nipped it in the bud last year. (OK I’ll stop now!) They were spoken of in the same league as Aberfeldy, but never quite achieved their potential. Jim led the band through many personnel changes but gradually Fiona Thom and Nelson Wright emerged as songwriters, to the point where they share most of the credits here, either as composers or collaborators.
This was their unreleased second CD, and has recently been rescued from the cutting room floor and housed in a rather innocent sleeve design by Nelson; the songs aren’t nearly as twee as the name or design might suggest, although they’re a long way from death metal.
Nelson is the collaborator on many of the songs, but lead vocals and, by implication, lead compositions are taken in turn by Fiona and Jim. Fiona scores on all counts with her characteristic wit on the bittersweet Public Transport (‘I hate crying on public transport’), a flippant Sheryl (Crowe that is) with nice harmonica from Nelson and golden harmonies from Fi and Jim, and the driving Agency Girls, which is the one song that needs a more muscular arrangement. And what is she on about – bumcracks, builders and ‘time to get that kit off’? Strange girl. Jim’s contributions are, to my mind, less consistent. Humanist Wedding is the marriage of a rather earnest vocal (‘Hooray for the humanist wedding’) with a superb Kinksophile arrangement. I’m sure the ending is nicked from somewhere in the Village Green, but it’s great anyway. The Girl Whose Hair Was Gold is fine too, a trance-like two-chord driver with more golden harmonies. Sweet Atheism and New PC don’t quite cut it for me, rather too didactic, but they might for you. However, Jim more than redeems himself with the two closing songs, Inga’s Eyes and Optimism, interesting and perfectly formed melodies just right for his yearning voice. If I’d paid for the album it would have been worth it for these. Guitars and harmonies throughout are nicely recorded (by Les Makin) and the percussion rewards attention too.
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Let’s hope Jim’s not lost to the world of songwriting; Fiona is building up her own career apace, and Nelson’s out and about with The Storm and The Wright Brothers. But I’m writing this review because I don’t want this little gem to be lost. I want more people to hear it. Only a few were made for the band and friends and it deserves more listeners. Want one? Contact Nelson or Fi (or me), and one will be created just for you. You won’t be sorry!
(It’s funny how reviews get quoted. I look forward to seeing “Flowers for Algernon: a long way from death metal” Norman Lamont)