Graded on a Curve:
Bob Collins and the
Full Nelson, Telescopic Victory Kiss

Medway Towns UK-based Bob Collins is most prominent as part of the increasingly revered and long defunct ‘80s band The Dentists, but in contemporary terms he fronts the Full Nelson, a trim pop-rock unit radiating a classique vibe without faltering into throwback. Loaded with melodies and riffs, Telescopic Victory Kiss is bold in its dedication to the basics; it’s available now on CD via Jigsaw Records.

Formed in 1984 and extant for roughly a decade, The Dentists were but one thread in indie pop’s magnificent weave. Occasionally aligned with the C86 uprising, The Medway group wasn’t part of that compilation’s original sequencing, though “Peppermint Dreams” was included on Cherry Red’s expanded NME C86 Deluxe set from last year.

Like many yanks, this writer made his acquaintance with The Dentists through Dressed, the 1992 CD issued in the States by Homestead Records. 23 tracks deep, it culled material from inaugural ’85 7-inch “Strawberries Are Growing in My Garden (And It’s Wintertime),” the Some People Are On The Pitch They Think It’s All Over It Is Now LP from the same year and three EPs: ‘85’s “You and Your Bloody Oranges,” ‘86’s “Down and Out in Paris and Chatham,” and ‘87’s “Writhing on the Shagpile.”

After an admirable run they called it a day in ‘95. Individual members have remained musically engaged since, though nothing thus far has managed to equal The Dentists’ gradually rising stature. Regarding Collins, as early as ‘92 he was helping to comprise the three-piece side-combo Ascoyne d’Ascoyne; their fine 3-song slab of melodic garage punk “Just the Biggest Thing” was issued on producer and Medway vet Wild Billy Childish’s Hangman Records.

Post Dentists breakup Collins first resurfaced alongside Gaz Robertson in Fortune West for one “unashamedly MOR” single and also contributed to an album and an EP in fellow Dentist Mick Murphy’s project Fortress Madonna. By the mid-2000s he’d teamed-up with another ex-bandmate; as Great Lines he and Mark Matthews played SXSW and cut a yet to be released full-length.

More recently Collins has joined the “punk-pop-blues” act Stuart Turner & the Flat Earth Society, co-authored with Ian Snowball the very enticing book The Kids Are All Square: Medway Punk and Beyond 1977-1985, and co-promoted the Homespun music festival; all this and still allotting time to record Telescopic Victory Kiss with the other points of the Full Nelson’s triangle, namely former Dentist drummer Rob Grigg and ex-Ascoyne d’Ascoyne bassist Mark Aitken.

They’ve been active since 2007, a protracted period considering bands have formed, delivered a couple of albums, broken up, and reunited during that span, but the lengthy gestation pays dividends as opening number “Sunshine of Your Soul” brandishes the casual tightness noted as a byproduct of extensive practice sessions.

Possessing savvy judgment as it explores potentially fist-pumping catchiness without tipping overboard into obnoxiousness, a further aspect of the track’s success relates to crisp forthright riffs; beginning with Collins’ hooky call to action his cohorts quickly respond, “Sunshine of Your Soul” benefiting from the clarity of the trio orientation. Grigg’s drumming is right up front as Aitkin’s bass lends weight and depth to the velocity from whence Collins eventually launches his raucous solo.

All of the above would be squandered in the absence of worthwhile songwriting. Sidestepping this problem is “Your Star is Fading,” a slice of tuneful mid-tempo heft; shorn of the accent it could convincingly hail from ‘80s Hoboken. The amps are turned up, the lyrics are biting, Collins commences soloing in an impressively non-obvious manner, and the tune reaches five minutes without overstaying its welcome.

It leads into “Espionage,” a marvelous specimen harkening back to the late-‘70s UK (think Lowe/Costello/Jackson) with a nifty little surprise built into its construction; this review shan’t spoil it but will instead single out the overall potency of Collins’ jangling. “Seven Lives” re-ups the tempo, folding in hints of power pop as clean strum gets mingled with meatier electric lines, a tried-and-true maneuver that doesn’t recall any direct precedent too heavily. As the pace slows Grigg is given the opportunity to shine.

This isn’t to suggest influences aren’t detectable across Telescopic Victory Kiss’s duration. Impossible to avoid is a similarity to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (and by association The Jam), in part through vocal inflection most apparent on “Shaking Down the Secrets,” but even more so in the pop-rock intensity and trio slimness of “Sunshine of Your Soul” and its counterpart “Emily.”

The spirited forward motion of “Emily” matches up well beside the opener as the anthemic quality is reasserted but kept in check, retaining the power pop angle and underlining a persistent element in Collins’ (and in fairness, Grigg’s and Aitkin’s) musical back-story. Specifically, a strong suit of The Dentists was how they cultivated a garage sensibility from inside the aforementioned indie pop sphere minus any Beatle-boots and maracas-styled Neo-moves.

Well-done retro nods aren’t without charm, but the Full Nelson concocts a blend of bedrock sources and contempo verve, and the entirety avoids the straining to impress frequently marring debut platters. For instance, the acoustically-inclined “Golddust” doesn’t overreach for the diversity ring, and if the full band uptick is inevitable, it lacks triteness.

By contrast, “The Middle of the Day” is one of Telescopic Victory Kiss’s tougher rockers. It weds slashing chords to punchy melodic-rock traditionalism and a touch of backing (or overdubbed) vocals, while the general contagiousness of “Wait for December” relaxes the atmosphere through a sing-along chorus, more layered vox and the record’s first fade out.

Closer “Holy Man” sports interweaved guitars cradling a thread of expressive vocalizing; if again reminiscent of the Pharmacists’ leader, it’s important to remember that Collins is the veteran in this comparison. The increase in muscularity is gradual and deft, ending the disc not with a bang but with a coda of rich ensemble play.

Due to substantial combined expertise, Telescopic Victory Kiss registers less as a debut and more like a new branch sprouting from a firmly-rooted tree. Collins and the Full Nelson understand their strengths and have crafted a terrific batch of songs readymade for driving too fast with the top down. Those longing for guitar pop fix might find that nagging jones temporarily quenched.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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