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Chad Valley
Young Hunger John Freeman , November 21st, 2012 09:25

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There is a song on Chad Valley's anaemic debut album entitled 'My Girl'. The opening lines are thus – "If you wanna be my girl / You gotta tell me the truth." At this point, four songs in and with these words fading into insignificance, three thoughts occur almost simultaneously. Firstly, what to do with the mouthful of sick provided by involuntary oesophageal reflex, such is the cloying schmaltz of the track. Secondly, a more worrying health concern; can you actually develop diabetes from listening to music? Could a song be so saccharine sweet as to fuck with your Islets of Langerhans? And finally, and as importantly, is the notion that the lyric should act as a vehicle to unite all women globally - please ladies, do NOT tell this song's protagonist the truth. Lying through your teeth is the only way forward.

Okay, okay – perhaps this is being uncharitable, but while his previous EPs were bedroom recordings, Hugo Manuel's Chad Valley side-project (his day-job also includes fronting-up Oxford four-piece Jonquil) has clearly sets out its stall on this long-player. Largely recorded at Evolution Studios in Manuel's hometown, Young Hunger openly seeks to re-create the 80s production values of gurus such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and weld them to the Chad Valley take on chillwaved pop.

As an experiment it doesn't work. Even with lavish studio trickery, Young Hunger sounds wetter than, as a great man once said, a haddock's bathing costume. While the Jam-Lewis sound was luxurious, their best work also had emotional depth and killer pop hooks – I'd offer Janet Jackson's 'When I Think Of You' and 'Together Again' as gorgeous examples of cerebral dream pop. Without this level of insanely high quality, most of Young Hunger is akin to, as my late grandmother might have remarked, a wet lettuce. It is gloss and fluff masquerading as euphoric heartbreak. It makes Savage Garden sound like Leonard Cohen.

At the risk of appearing psychotically-obsessed by a song, 'My Girl' also contains another remarkable couplet – "If you wanna be my girl / You gotta get with my friends." Aside from checking my calendar to make sure I hadn't been suddenly jettisoned back to the 'Zig-a-zig-ah' Spice Girls-era, it made me think about Manuel's musical friends. He has lots of them and they must love him dearly. Take Jack Goldstein, of fellow Oxford citizens The Fixers, as an example. Jack undertakes vocal duties on 'My Girl' – an act that of kinship that defines the concept of 'taking one for the team'.

Elsewhere, Hugo's chums are queuing up to offer their services. George Lewis Jr of Twin Shadow fame lends his vocal to the opening 'I Owe You This', a track that at least has the good grace to instantly signpost the gloop that follows. Glasser (Cameron Mesirow) lends her normally glorious talents to 'Fall 4 U', a song which aims for 80s synth pop heaven but makes me feel the need to listen to Howard Jones - on repeat - as a penance.

Young Hunger is fed (sorry) by a constant stream of collaborations. El Perro Del Mar rocks up on 'Evening Surrender' – a track so toothless that it might as well come with its own white flag. Anne Lise Frøkedal, of Norwegian pop troupe Harry's Gym, props up the semi-interesting 'Fathering/Mothering' while Orlando Higginbottom (of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs) receives a hospital pass on the limp 'My Life Is Complete'. As 'luck' would have it, my five-year-old daughter has ensured our household currently contains the new One Direction album. I can state, quite categorically, that there are several songs on that record – including one written by Ed frigging Sheeran – which have more emotional depth than Chad Valley's 'My Life Is Complete'.

It is not all bad; 'Up & Down' (featuring no-one but Manuel) and the closing 'Manimals' (featuring kindred spirit Pat Grossi from Active Child) are both lovely – layered and dreamy – as Manuel reminds us of how good he is at straight-up chillwave. Indeed, the inclusion of these two songs highlights the main problem with Young Hunger. I was a teenager during the 80s and loved a lot of the music Chad Valley is trying to emulate elsewhere on this album. But, that era also produced a huge amount of piss-weak synth pop dross. Producers like Jam and Lewis were masters of a craft that was, and still is, very easy to get wrong.

There is no doubt that Hugo Manuel is a hugely talented musician – the previous Chad Valley EPs and his output with Jonquil testify to this. He will make far better albums than Young Hunger. He has to.