Album review: THE FOREIGN FILMS – Starlight Serenade

Pete Feenstra chatted to Bill Majoros for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio.  First broadcast 21 November 2021.

The Foreign Films - Starlight Serenade

Curve Music [Release date 30.07.21]

What’s the significance of a band’s name? In the case of The Foreign Films (aka Canadian singer songwriter Bill Majoros), it’s a clue to the way he wears his musical heart on his sleeve, as he successfully captures the magic and mystery of the foreign film.

The Foreign Films retro tinged narratives and delicate arrangements immerse themselves in a 60’s aesthetic that extends from the art work through Majoros’s poetic lyrics to pop- tinged psychedelia.

His influences span The Beatles and The Zombies, plus occasional Todd Rundgren touches with plenty of Beach Boys harmonies.

‘Starlight Serenade’ has plenty of well thought out songs, shaped by an intuitive musical vision that pays homage to a golden era in which we were all much younger.

It’s an album that builds by degrees and Majoros saves his best for last on ‘Angel In Disguise’,  on which the sumptuous melodic detail neatly rounds off an engaging album.  The track starts off in a syrupy vein, but finds its presence via a Phil Spector meets Roy Wood ‘s Wizzard style wall of sound with a de rigueur retro narrative.

You can imagine that the miniature stories and layered music – ranging from an acoustic sweep to a full blow pop psychedelia – is the result of having started the project during lockdown.

As a result he’s transformed his introspective environment on to a bigger musical canvas filled with musical ideas that are tied into a time when life appeared simpler and things were more optimistic. It all helps to provide the technicolor feel that his uplifting music evokes.

What’s missing here is the kind of killer single which could  draw people’s attention to the album.

For the most part ‘Starlight Serenade’ is built on lingering melodies, glistening harmonies and subtle bv’s which flesh out the story filled narratives. Majoros is no Ray Davies, but he does have ability to pen engaging stories.

He sets out his stall on the opening ‘Fortune Teller (Pretty In the City)’. A gentle, but persistently thumbed bass line levers us into the first of several poppy tunes with double tracked vocals and metaphoric lyrics: “She’s going to California with the sun in her eyes and the moon glow in her heart.”

His lyrical bent is framed by 10cc style ‘oohs and aahs’ as part of a catchy pop song which is concise enough to have made its point by the half way mark, before it’s rescued by a guitar solo.

There’s a beguiling earnestness at work here that suggests he’s reaching for psychedelic pop without the 60’s druggy haze.

The difference between this music and say The Zombies – another clean living group from the 60’s -  is that this album has fleeting moments when the musical colour and narratives resonate, but sometimes an annoying sense of familiarity is more significant than the song itself.

Listen for example,  to the jangly guitars and harmony vocals of ‘Echoes Of  The Heart’ which has echoes of The Hollies, The Byrds and always the early Beatles.  It’s a superbly crafted track that acts as a reminder of a magical era with some outstanding bands, but the song is not quite memorable enough to stand out it its own right as part of the overall retro genre.

Majoros is at his best on the lush layered strings of ‘A Photograph Of You’ another uplifting Beatles influenced piece with more evocative lyrics: “A photograph of you in the summer sun, a photograph of you, when we were young.”

The 60′s pastiche of ‘Many Moons Ago (Starlite Serenade)’, which partly gives the album its title, is a melange of horns, strings and an eerie sounding Mellotron, before a brief staggered Beatles style tempo change. A pregnant pause then ushers in a coda that features featuring a couple of harp sweeps and an uplifting finish.

There’s still time for ‘Rainbow’, which features an intricate “dooh dooh, dooh dooh” line, delicate percussion and some convincing harmony vocals which have a fragility that draws the listener in.

The unashamed hippy idealism of ‘All The Love You Give’ opens with a rolling synths, rumbling bass and harmony vocals over a faux Beatles horn arrangement, as a catchy chorus  sweeps all before it.

And just when you’ve become immersed by Majoros’s 60’s collage, he reaches back to the 50′s for a doowop inflected ‘The Mystery Of Love’, albeit with a Todd Rundgren style arrangement.

By the time of the jaunty ‘Sweet Madeline’ we’re drawn back to colourful lyrics which lead to a significant hook:  “She walks in Spanish gardens sun kissed by the sea, she showed me all her secrets that I longed to see. Sweet Madeline, she could see the state my heart was in.”

In sum, The Foreign Films’ psychedelic pop taps into mid 60′s, pre-rock era era when pop was the gateway to all manner of musical innovation.

‘Starlight Serenade’ buys into the notion of keeping the wonder of music alive. It’s a lofty  ambition that only marginally falls short of its aim. Happily there’s enough retro appeal to attract extant baby boomer pop fans and possibly land Bill Majoros a song in a film, which would almost bring the project full circle.   ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 20 March 2022 at 21:00 GMT (16:00 EST). Josh’s next session is Sunday 22 May.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.

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