SEAN O'BRIEN is the very epitome of the seasoned campaigner. His 30-year CV includes stints with bands such as Meantime (who would later mutate into Paisley Underground contenders True West), Denim TV and The Mariettas. This latter also featuring ex-Leaving Trains and Baby Lemonade/ Arthur Lee & Love personnel.
So it's undeniable the Californian-based O'Brien has been around the block a few times, but his experiences have rubbed off favourably in artistic terms. His current buncha honchos, His Dirty Hands – bassist Bill Davis, drummer Matt Shelley and fellow guitarist Jeff Kane – do a consistently good job in bringing his tough'n'tender, garage-tinged power pop to fruition and while 'Goodbye Game' would certainly sit easily on a shelf with the likes of Steve Wynn and Paul Westerberg, O'Brien has a distinctive delivery of his own and a desire to experiment which provides some unexpected successes along the way.
The opening brace of tunes, including the anti-depressant, self-help pop of 'Take Your Pills' and 'Warm & Sane' give you some idea of the ballpark we're in here. The former has tinges of 'Pleased To Meet Me'-era Replacements, while the zig-zagging guitars of 'Warm & Sane' brings Steve Wynn's 'Melting In The Dark' favourably to mind. The sound on songs like these and the barely-suppressed angst in 'Bones Snap' (“split me open...pull out my black intentions”) is finished and well-rounded, but never too polished, and there's plenty of room for windmilling power chords to detonate.
Add songs like the cranked'n'fractious 'Walk There Too' and the sharp, Television-influenced 'Home To Penelope' to the stew and you've got a respectably nourishing power-pop dish to savour, yet Sean & His Dirty Hands are equally keen to lob in some less-easily recognisable spices to the pot too.
The first of these comes courtesy of 'Aftermath Fears'. Opening with a snatch of what sounds like a Middle Eastern radio broadcast, it initially sounds like a clunking, Bad Seeds-style sea shanty, but gradually weaves a glorious web of widescreen drama all its' own. It's only the first head-checking moment, too, for 'Goodbye Game' also finds room for country-flecked beauties like 'All That I Don't Know' and the Brinsley Schwarz-ish 'New Home Tonight',where the superficial jauntiness and killer, Albert Lee-meets-Billy Bremner guitar solo only barely mask the sadness felt by a man looking to answer his relationship problems online.
The one place they arguably bite off more than they can chew is the bizarre 'Get Over Tunis', which seems to think an ill-advised blunder down Jamaica's Maxfield Avenue to the dub heart of Studio One is a good idea. It's oddly endearing, but stands out the proverbial sore thumb here. Thankfully, the no-nonsense 'Home To Penelope' steams through in its' wake and the final strait is populated by the sinister, psychedelic-tinted 'Bad Faith' and the showstopping title track, which is as anthemic as they come and throws in a little 'White Album'-era Beatles and Costello-style bile for good measure.
Honest, intelligent and unafraid to get a little egg on its' face, this is a decent album with enough mystery and allure to tempt the discerning. Sean O'Brien could very easily be categorised as a veteran, but there's plenty of life in him yet and, as such, 'Goodbye Game' is merely a fond adieu until the next quality-stuffed instalment.