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Album Review
Unlimited Buffet

Unlimited Buffet
by Fabulous/Arabia

Economy Records

Review Date
10th October 2011
Reviewed by
Gareth Meade

What did you expect the outcome of a collaboration between Mike Fabulous and James Milne, AKA Lawrence Arabia, to sound like? If it isn’t what you hear on the pair’s debut album, Unlimited Buffet, you’ve probably never heard either musician before, or you were hoping for a sea change that was unlikely from the outset. But what it sounds like isn’t what’s surprising about this unexpected coupling; it’s that what you hear actually sounds quite good.

Mike Fabulous is perhaps best well known for his work with The Black Seeds, as well as being very much a part of the Fly My Pretties collective. It’s his fingerprints that leave the most obvious mark on the album, with smatterings of funk and soul illustrated by loose bass, drumming that is heavy on the ride cymbal and an obligatory horn section. Add Milne’s idiosyncratic vocal and the outcome recalls what David Bowie referred to as “plastic soul”, perfect for a generation used to plastic reproductions of eras past.

While Fabulous knows his way around the genre, Milne comes across as less comfortable, however not afraid to stretch himself. Third track ‘Perm’ shows the first signs of strain as the gears shift from openers ‘The Ballad of State Highway 1’ and ‘Give Me Love Tonight’. Neither would be entirely out of place if played in any Wellington venue of a weekend, but ‘Perm’ sounds like it came straight off the Boogie Nights soundtrack, with Milne’s falsetto pushed to breaking point. Luckily, you can hear both musicians purposefully hamming it up, and if there wasn’t a hint before now, it becomes abundantly clear just how serious these two are about having a good time rather than announcing a permanent shift in musical direction.

Where Milne does sound most at home is on the lackadaisical ‘Eugenics’ and the more purposeful ‘Tony’s Chord’, his vocal pairing perfectly with the instruments supporting it. Similarly, The Groynes wouldn’t be out of place on a Lawrence Arabia album, the addition of a violin creating really quite an affecting song, both vocally and instrumentally.

As tends to be the case with these kinds of projects, the irony occasionally gets pushed too far. Not everything on the album is as fun to listen to as it might have been to make, however it’s so satisfying to hear this duo get it right. The only thing that is left now, after hearing the album, is to see what kind of audience it attracts. Certainly both men have a fan base, but whether or not they intersect at any point is another matter. Hopefully it’ll extend beyond the curious and attract all new ears in the direction of these two very talented individuals.

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