Review Summary: Despite being the new kids on the block the Jane Austen Argument release one of the tightest indie cabaret albums out there.
Melbourne cabaret duo The Jane Austen Argument; formed in 2009 during a chance encounter on a cigarette break; is one of the more peculiar bands to come out of Australia. Being a cabaret duo comprised entirely of vocalist/pianist Jen Kingwell, and vocalist/pianist/ukulele player Tom Dickins. Though Dickins and Kingwell share the duties of pianist and vocalist, Dickins primarily provides vocals and Kingwell provides piano. With a line-up like this there was no way this band was never going to be ordinary and with a stage presence involving feathers, glitter and some upside down wings it's clear that ordinary was never their goal. Yet the album they have created is neither strange nor ordinary, instead it's familiar yet spectacular.
Somewhere Under the Rainbow is a prime example of the extraordinary coming from the ordinary. When it comes to music both halves of TJAAA are not particularly gifted Kingwell does not have a third hand to aid her music. Dickins does not have the range of Patton nor the control of Buckley. Don't get me wrong they both sing and play beautifully but that comes from practice, it's not their talent and it's not what makes them special. Their talent is their uncanny ability to play to their strengths, eliminate their weaknesses and write the best possible song with what they have. And damn, they do that well.
The opener on this album demonstrates this perfectly as it opens with a short thirty second song which begins with a short sombre violin melody and is then joined by a cello following said melody. Both of which are promptly dropped in favour of the piano which is soon joined by Kingwell's mournful voice telling us, there is a ship. the first thing you'll notice throughout this is everything is perfectly fitting; not amazing; nor mind-blowing; nor life-changing, just purely and simply fitting. At no time will you be humming a tune from SUTR for hours, and at no time will you find yourself shocked at their unorthodox use of instrumentation. What you will find, however is yourself marvelling at the beauty of the beautiful moments and tapping your feet at the fun moments. This is an album that makes you happy when it's happy and sad when it's sad. Put simply it achieves it's goals. However there is one more thing this band shows an innate talent for.
The duo also have a talent for writing a very consistent record using well known musical tropes to great efficacy without sounding either stale nor lazy. This album can boast a wide range of music from the slow haunting ballad of Song for a Siren to the upbeat and witty *** you song that is Song in this Book. In the former we hear Kingwell singing about a mysterious ship, behind a maudlin piano tune and in the latter we hear Dickins tell us about his ex-lover with an upbeat jaunty piano playing in the background. We hear this kind of variety throughout the entire album.
The final thing that sets Dickins and Kingwell above the rest is their knack for lyricism. Whether it be Dickins singing about missing his grandfathers' funeral on Silver Suit, or Kingwell singing about sour milk in the aptly titled Sour Milk Song. You can bet the lyrics will be top-notch. However this is not a perfect album and it does suffer from certain flaws.
First off, certain songs suffered from being overly long. Namely Silver Suit (though given the deeply personal subject matter, this is understandable) and As in Berlin. Dickins also has a tendency to steal the spotlight a bit, by singing kingwells lines with her when it is unnecessary. While acceptable at first this does start to grate after a while.
However these are minor gripes on a ultimately spectacular record, and this album proves that the Jane Austen Argument might be the new kids on the block but they are clearly a force to be reckoned with.