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Making Music, 1998

Rare Breed review

Sean McManus reviews Rare Breed's pre-Christmas 1998 London gig

The backlash against synthesisers saw everyone from The Wonderstuff to Guns & Roses dripping violin arrangements over their songs. In chart singles, strings were used as a substitute for dramatic songwriting and before exhausting its potential, the pop orchestra became a cliche.

Enter Rare Breed, a band that uses orchestral instruments but stands out from the rest. The choice of instruments is odder than most: a tuba oompahs in the bass, while the slightly more familiar flute, electric violin and trumpet flirtily swap tunes. Guitar, drums and vocals complete the soundscape. No keyboards or bass guitar pad the sound: what you see is what you get.

The band's ace is that unlike most of the acts using orchestral instruments lately, the music sounds and feels as though it was written for those instruments. In an age when computers are used by most composers, many orchestral parts scream that they were written on a synthesiser keyboard. Rare Breed's tunes owe less to riffs and more to flighty melodies hopping between instruments. Nor are the classical parts reserved for the middle eight and the introduction. Throughout the verses, the band members play off each other, enjoying a classical fluidity within the drumbeats that a larger orchestral section couldn't afford. The songs themselves are like soundtracks to biographies, each a timeless story, sung with passion and vigour. Even if the band never joins the scramble for a chart placing, the members can feel good knowing that they have shown how it should be done.

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