SCRATCHED MATINEE – Notes From The Incurable

matineeChris Francis is a guitarist from south east England. He will be familiar to melodic rock fans as being the man who replaced Vinny Burns in TEN, playing on their ‘Return To Evermore’ and ‘Twilight Chronicles’ releases. In addition to that, he’s released guitar instrumental albums under his own name.

Moving away from the guitar instrumental format, Chris’s third release is an album of actual songs. Although released under a band name, Scratched Matinee is essentially just Chris Francis (providing all musical aspects) and Phil Philsworth on lead vocals. The album, ‘Notes From the Incurable’ is a concept piece, of sorts, which supposedly touches on themes of depression, warfare, psychosis, murder and triumph. I say supposedly, since the album is mixed badly and as a result, most of the vocal details are drowned out by Francis’s loud guitar work at least half the time. Being a guitarist, the guitars will often be his main concern, but the volume of his guitars combined with a small budget makes this album sound overly trebly and rather harsh. The recording is almost without any bass and the drums are programmed – and that’s a great pity, since some of the material here sounds like it should be absolutely amazing.

So, what about the songs? A bit of a mixed bag – but more often than not, Scratched Matinee deliver the goods with maximum intensity. A gentle intro with the sounds of acoustic guitars and orchestral leanings leads into ‘The Scarlet Ice’. You want bluster? You want bravado? You got it. The guitars are so dirty; in fact, the overall arrangement has little in the way of subtlety – and somewhere in amongst it all, you’ll find vocalist Phil trying his best to be heard. Not the best of openings, but things get better, at least intermittently. Huge vocals splashed across a late 80s guitar riff can be heard at the beginning ‘These Long Winter Evenings…’ – a track with not only a good chorus and melody, but also features Philsworth’s vocals much higher in the end mix. It provides an insight into Francis’s melodic rock roots, but just as things appear to be settling down, ‘Horror Show’ presents itself with a huge, dirty swaggering riff. Its intro promises a lot, but once you get past the Peter Frampton-esque talk box noises, it seems to be all oomph and no lasting substance. Again, it’s a  struggle to hear a clear vocal delivery behind the wall of guitars.

‘New Moon Monday’ offers something a little more restrained. Philsworth delivers a reasonable performance on a pompy song which has hints of early Queen with its piano base. By the time the lead guitars kick in, Francis has chosen his usual tone – and, once more, the guitars appear to be so loud, they mask everything else that’s going on. ‘Mother Medicine’ provides the start of some proper respite from the guitars, sounding a little like the Beatle-obsessed rock as practised by Ty Tabor (but heavier, naturally). Throw in a couple Jellyfish-esque vocals – resplendent with a chorus of backing vocal harmonies, with a bunch of shameless ‘na na’s and ‘la la’s – and it quickly becomes of the album’s best tracks. Similarly, the hard rock waltz of ‘Theatre Insane’ features some great moments. The ringing rhythm guitars provide a decent base; Francis seems to be rather more restrained here and this means that Phil Philsworth gets a chance to be heard upfront once again. Things build until we reach a spooky, carny-influenced moment, which is bolstered by various samples of voices and keyboard strings, before everything falls away and Francis delivers a solo. Here, he wisely chooses something a little quieter, with a few classic moments to be heard – there’s a fair amount of feel, a bit of vibrato and not too much ugliness – a quick reminder of why his previous works were so enjoyable.

There’s a reasonable amount of mid-range aggression and all round hugeness to be heard on the closing tracks of the disc, so it’s likely if you’re still digging the album by this point, there are a few more thrills to be had. Thankfully, there are a couple of great musical aspects lurking between the full-on rock moments: ‘Mr Spencer’ features a brilliant rumpty-tumpty arrangement (again, more than reminiscent of early Queen) while ‘Summer Days’ has a fantastic acoustic intro. It’s beautifully played – such a shame Chris Francis doesn’t lean towards acoustic work more often. Enjoy it while you can though…the fuzzy electric guitars stomp over anything too intricate before long…

Hearing a lot of talk prior to its release, this sounded like a brilliantly adventurous project, and in many ways, it is. There are some decent songs here and some potentially very interesting arrangements, but the good parts are absolutely wasted on an album with such a small recording budget. Sadly, a bad final mix combined with the (at times) almost relentless bombast of Scratched Matinee’s approach toward most things brings the potential for a headache. It’s a full-on experience, but not always in the most enjoyable way. Still, if the world needed an album that sounded like 80s guitar rock crossed with early Queen and the pomposity of ‘The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance, this is it.

If you’re unfamiliar with Chris Francis and are curious to hear a gifted musician, here’s some advice… Rather than wading your way through Scratched Matinee’s foray into something nearing theatrical self-indulgence, as a first listen, you’re better off visiting the Chris Francis website and picking up his solo release ‘Studs n’ Sisters’ instead.

December 2010