This is a review of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" recorded by Itch. The review was written by Sam Saunders in 2003.
This is a third release from Batley's Itch. The passion, inventiveness and musical ambition of the 2001 debut "Spiralling Paper Planes" are still all there, with depth maturity and a surer sense of what Itch are all about.
"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" has delightfully chunky and varied guitar (Stephen Banks and Mike Milner combined) with XTC syncopated jerkiness and Dexy's rich abandonment in the vocal track. There's John Darke's melodic, harmonically strong bass and Lee Strong's excellent drumming, each in glorious service of the whole piece, controlled, sympathetic and creative. Guitars, bass and drums (with occasional and subtle extras like a mandolin) all fire together on the same mission.
The songs have poetic lyrics with layers of meaning and reward for every level of listening. There's an impressive consistency in sound and depth, each song is distinct and special. There are no breaks in the onslaught, and no fillers. None of the seven could have been left out. Each introduction excites interest with new sounds.
There's a beautiful sleeve too, but maddeningly the track listing is completely obscured in one of those typographical nightmares that absorbs the obsessive and pisses the rest of us off. I enjoy listening, I hate cryptography. So I've very little idea what the songs are called. Every time I listen, the legible titles are spinning round invisibly in the machine.
The recording (Ric Rac Studios) is well balanced and clear with only the most minor of quibbles - a tricksy bit of stereo panning at one point, and some vocal sections going into the red zone here and there (especially in the epic "Fingers Crossed" that closes the CD.
Personally speaking, Mike Milner's vocals are as big a problem as they were when I reviewed the first release. On the really upbeat side his voice in normal registers has become stronger, more confident and much more interesting. He has become a distinctive, convincing singer. I was so pleased to hear the opening section of "The Stick and the Stone" with its varied and controlled mania. His voice is genuine and human and it draws me into the lyric and the into the world this band (and they are very much a singular item) inhabit. He can colour and modulate it in emotionally effective ways. But then, over and over, he risks alienating the listener with overlong sections of the nuclear screaming option that needs drastic rationing for its (genuinely startling) effect to have the intended emo intensity. The ear becomes quickly adjusted, then exhausted, and the sharpening effect gets lost in monotonous overdrive. The recording levels peak and then distort, and everything hits an unyielding ceiling of 11. By the last track my excitement at one of the best CDs of the year has shrivelled in frustration and I'm dreading the inevitable return to the colourless scream. Come on Mike, less is more ... every time. Go back and delight in the opening sections of track 2. If you're going to scream so much you might as well tell the band to stop bothering with all the finely controlled music they're playing.