By Al Kaufman
You know a band has made it big when its drummer releases a solo CD. Seriously, can anything else explain Ringo Starr’s recording career? Radiohead is that big, but drummer Phil Selway is no Ringo Starr. That is to say Selway has actual musical talent.
For Familial, Selway has transformed himself into a contemplative, acoustic guitar strumming, singer/songwriter. His somewhat effeminate vocals recall those of Paul Heaton when he was with the Brit-pop band Beautiful South. His simple melodies are easily comparable to Nick Drake, or even a slightly creepier Jim Croce. This is a throwback to the ’70s folk rock days. Selway incorporates a few loops and sonic sounds that he has learned from his days keeping the beat behind Thom Yorke, but mostly this is a CD of sparse songs about life and family.
The biggest problem with Familial is that many of the songs end before it feels like they even got started. A couple of the songs, “All Eyes on You” (about Yorke’s stage fright?) and “The Tides that Bind Us” (with some nice string work courtesy of Lisa Germano) have some semblance of a melody to the point that the listener may find himself humming along, but most everything else feels more like background music. It’s warm, comforting background music, but background music nonetheless.
The lyrics also do not live up to Radiohead standards. References to light abound, but often in the form of cliche. “The lights are burning bright/ But no one’s home,” he sings on “Patron Saint.” He equates turning off lights to “The Simple Life,” because, after all, “When all is said and done/It’s just a trick of light” he says on “Falling.”
No, nothing is as deep here as Selway wishes it were. What Familial is, is a modest CD by a drummer who wanted to show a different side of himself. It’s a soft, sensitive, pretty side. Yes, it is a bit of a snoozer at times, but kudos to Selway for stepping out behind the drum kit and giving it a go without resorting to drivel such as “Octopus’ Garden.”