Personnel: Lawrence Arabia (vocals, guitar, piano, synthesizer, drums).
Audio Mixer: Mike Fabulous.
Recording information: World of Sound, Gracefield, NZ.
Over the course of a decade, James Milne made a quiet name for himself as a first-rate purveyor of classic McCartney-meets-Nilsson pop under the moniker Lawrence Arabia. His way with a sneaky hook, the care he puts into arrangements, and the quirky nature of his lyrical concerns all point back favorably to these twin titans of sticky-sweet songcraft. Many have followed that same path over the years; not too many have a body of work as solid and promising as Milne to show for their efforts. Released in 2016, Absolute Truth marks Lawrence Arabia's debut for Flying Nun, the label that put New Zealand on the indie pop map. It's also his strongest effort from top to bottom. The songs have a confident snap to the rhythms, Milne's elastic vocals show more range, especially in the falsetto region, and he tries out a few new things, all of which work a treat. Milne worked again with producer Mike Fabulous on Absolute Truth, and the album has a playful feel that previous efforts didn't display as strongly. The almost funky bounce of "Sweet Dissatisfaction" and the swirling disco strings on "Another Century" show this off most obviously, but almost all the album has a light breeziness to it. A few songs aim for something more atmospheric, like the late-night ballad "The Old Dancefloor" and the sweepingly cinematic "Mask of Maturity," and Milne hits those marks directly too. The bulk of Absolute Truth, however, is made up of smart, precisely arranged singer/songwriter pop that is equally lilting and yearning, while always seeming like songs Harry Nilsson never had a chance to write. This is the first Lawrence Arabia album that fully reaches the promise shown by the first three albums, the first that works from start to finish, and the first that edges Milne close to the rarefied air his heroes occupy. ~ Tim Sendra