From Simple Minds to Radiohead to Coldplay, each generation of British rock seems to be successively dewier and more sensitive. Anyone who's grown weary of this trend will want to pass on Starsailor's Love Is Here, a well-crafted debut of anthemic ballads constantly puffing itself up to hide its vulnerability. Like Coldplay, Starsailor has conquered Britain and seems poised on the verge of stardom over here. The band's debut TV appearance on The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn was greeted with the hysterical adulation of an established cult.
Yet how much can you love a band that makes Weezer look emotionally restrained? Love's most obvious influence is the late Jeff Buckley (Starsailor was an album by his dad, Tim); accordingly, Starsailor's emotions start at 11 and are channeled through lead singer James Walsh's sad, ethereal falsetto. Like the younger Buckley's best work, Love combines dour histrionics with some impressive musicianship. The gloriously complex "Lullaby," with its soaring organ fills and classic-rock guitar solos, is a good example of the band's gifts. Harder songs such as "Good Souls" and "Poor Misguided Fool" succeed by sugarcoating the weepy tendencies with a propulsive vitality.
Alarmingly short on humor, sex or any sort of release, Starsailor gives too much space to depression, melodrama and recovering-addict preachiness; nothing here has the blissful heft of Coldplay's "Yellow." But it's not just the material at fault; it's Walsh's lack of vocal restraint. Lines that are painful enough when sung -- "You've got your daddy's eyes; Daddy was an alcoholic" -- become almost parodic when Walsh howls them. He abuses his vocal gifts by trying to make every song a climax, ruining quieter moments by emoting like a ham actor. "Must I always take a back seat?" asks Walsh on "Coming Down." It's an unintentionally hilarious question; were he willing to take a back seat on occasion, Starsailor would be twice the band it is.