Finley Quayle Vanguard (Epic)

Finley Quaye's sunny rock-reggae vibes (as filtered through the 1960s) threatened to make him the world's biggest reggae star in 1997, when critics slobbered all over his debut disc, Maverick a Strike. But Quaye pissed his fame away by embarking on a series of grand debaucheries that landed him a mandatory stint in a celebrity detox center. He emerged older and wiser, but not too old or too wise: he returned to his easygoing sound. Like ska kings the English Beat, he's still one of the few people who can make the goofiest love song undeniably hip. Consider his take on "Burning," a warmed-over happy fest seemingly tailored for Lawrence Welk, yet miraculously saved from an eternally dopey reputation by its delicious reggae stylings. Best of all, detox didn't kill Quaye's ability to create dumb, fun rockers such as "Spiritualized," a fast game of chicken between a lively horn section and a driving rock bass. But what really makes the album tantalizing is his sense of regret. Quaye's former happy-stoner identity didn't permit room for feelings like dread or hopelessness. Witness the foreboding of Vanguard's "British Air Rage" or the elegiac dignity of "Hey Now," supported by simple African drums, flutes and a spare synth. Their sense of "party's over forever!" certainly makes this collection of songs feel more thorough than Quaye's debut. Vanguard would be one of the better albums of 2001 if it weren't for one fatal flaw: Quaye is the worst lyricist this side of Robert Plant. Lines like "Use your fork/You know Björk" are almost as grimace-inducing as Plant's famous line from "Dancing Days," "I saw a lion/ He was standing alone with a tadpole in a jar." Take a lap around the lyricist lounge, Fin.

 
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