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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

Heavenly Sounds

May 10, 1987|RICHARD CROMELIN

Band: Balaam & the Angel.

Personnel: Mark Morris, bass, vocals; Jim Morris, guitar; Des Morris, drums.

History: The brothers Morris grew up in England and Scotland, and in the early '80s they played punk-rock in pubs near their hometown of Cannock in England's Midlands. They assumed their current direction around 1984 and were soon discovered by the Cult's singer Ian Astbury, who made them the opening act on that rising group's '84 English tour. The Morrises established their own label, Chapter 22 (the Biblical story of Balaam, the angel and the talking donkey is in Chapter 22 of Numbers), and released an EP, "World of Light," in December of '84. The record stayed in the Top 20 of Britain's independent chart for more than a year, and the 1985 single "Love Me" matched that success. Their final independent single, "Day and Night," nudged the Top 40, and they were signed by Virgin Records. Their debut album for the label, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," came out in March.

Sound: Despite the biblical preoccupation, Balaam & the Angel's music has more in common with the new English underground than with spiritual strivers like the Waterboys. Its links to U2 are more stylistic than thematic--things like the driving hook of "Light of the World," Mark Morris' strong, cutting vocals and some of the drone-and-ping atmospherics. You can also see why Cult hero Astbury would take a shine to them. Like the Cult, the Morrises favor a simple, heavily textured, guitar-based approach, and they have a fondness for updated '60s rock. The album's array of folky rock mysticism, popish horn charts, wild guitar gyrations, rustic moods and sonic collages recall a variety of sources, from the Kinks to the Stones' "Between the Buttons" period to the Velvet Underground to today types like Gene Loves Jezebel and Julian Cope. Slightly derivative, perhaps, but with an engaging enthusiasm.

Shows: Wednesday at Pretty Vacant, Thursday at the Palace, Saturday at La Paloma Theatre (all with the Mission U.K.), Friday at Scream.

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