When I realised that the ‘Rehearsing The Multiverse’ album by the Famous Groupies is sold through kunaki.com I first thought it might be a project involving David Grahame, the unsung American bedroom pop heir to Emitt Rhodes and Paul McCartney. Listening to a couple of very McCartneyish clips online further strengthened that suspicion.
However, on closer inspection, it turns out that this is the work of other musicians who most likely have been involved in other homage projects in the past.
The album’s first track ‘Don’t Bury Me’ immediately confirms the homage heritage, starting off directly with an obvious reference to ‘Rock Show’ from the Wings album ‘Venus and Mars’ only to segue into a steal from ‘Mrs. Vandebilt’ now transformed into the lyric snippet “please Mr. Macabee”.
Oh, and the whole song is about Billy Shears, the imaginary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band leader featured on said album, who was then rumoured to be the lookalike replacement in the conspiracy theory about McCartney’s alleged death in a car accident.
To further obfuscate, the Famous Groupies are said to be a Scottish band, all with the McKenzie surname, who are stuck in some kind of time loop between 1970 and 1976. And this is how bandleader Kirkcaldy McKenzie describes himself: “I co-write and sing the songs. I sing, play guitar, play some piano, play some drums and other various instruments when needed. I am all things McCartney.”
That, by the way, is true of the band name as well, which is lifted from a song on the ‘London Town’ album.
So, with a back story as ridiculous as it is complete, we are almost in Rutles territory here. Apart from the ambitious story telling, what makes it reasonable to talk about Rutles in this context is that the music pulls together bits and pieces of McCartney & Wings material in a similar fashion as Neil Innes did with the Beatles for his Rutles songs; you constantly recognise snippets, but they are skewed out of shape, turned inside-out or put in unfamiliar context.
As a listener, that keeps you on your toes, feeding you a constant stream of almost deja-vu like experiences when you try to put your finger on a half-remembered melody line that nevertheless slips beyond your grasp.
At best, the effect is a totally new perspective achieved by the juxtaposition of two knowns into an unknown and original thing. But maybe this is where the comparison to the mighty Neil Innes breaks down; whereas I am willing to put the Rutles on a piedestal as one of the truly great pop bands in their own right, this album by the Famous Groupies remains a homage, albeit an intriguing and well-written one. Neil Innes was famously sued by the owners of the Beatles’ catalogue, lost the case and had to share songwriting royalties with them. But the interesting part of that court case is that testimony based on minute scrutiny and comparison of the songs actually cleared Neil Innes from plagiarism technically speaking. So in the end I think it is fair to argue that the owners of the Beatles’ catalogue followed through with the lawsuit because they feared Innes originality more than anything else. I am not sure that would be the case with the Famous Groupies.
In any case, ‘Rehearsing The Multiverse’ is really full of beautiful pop songs and goes way beyond most other albums that wear their influences on their sleeves. If you care about 70s pop music, you need to hear it!