:: REVIEWS - Marshmallow

Marshmallow album review - Word magazine (April 2005)
- David Hepworth

Former Mutton Bird delivers enigmatic pop from the South Seas
"Marshmallow make the kind of tidied-up jingle-jangle music that permits rock critics to invoke the name of Big Star. Their lead singer and writer Alan Gregg (a former member of New Zealand's Mutton Birds) has one of those faintly fey, semi-detached singing styles that seems to be deliberately holding back on something. The layers of acoustic and electric guitars run through their chords in pretty unison, the backing vocals ooh, aah and la in the spaces between and the songs chug through simple changes in a way that lends themselves to regular repeat. It all seems very *designed*.

The words take a while to paint their pictures but when they do they open an interesting new dimension. Open Mic Night concerns the fanciable young folkie from the floor who reminds the writer of Carole King; the bossa nova tune Do The Decent Thing is the doleful story of the pregnant girlfriend ("the colour turns to blue / And you know that it must be you"); the chirpy roundelay Casting Couch conceals a curled lip at the things that Hollywood requires a girl to do; the opener Anytime Soon has for my money the neatest bridge of 2005 so far: "Be careful not to use / All of your I love yous / On the first one who makes an offer you cannot refuse". The whole thing slides down easily, sometime too easily, but there's a belting EP's worth of enigmatic pop in the midst of this LP."

Marshmallow album review - Gigwise.com (February 2005)
- Jonson Walker

This is the solo project of Kiwi songsmith Alan Gregg of 'The Mutton Birds' and delightful it is too. With celebrated Canadian singer Ron Sexsmith and the eternally beautiful Bic Runga lending a hand on vocals (and in the latter's case drums too), the songs swim through your soul like an even more delicate Teenage Fanclub.

Upon first listening it all sounds very nice if a little non-descript, but repeated plays reward the listener with an unexpected warmth not heard round these parts since Alfie's debut. Greggs voice is a typical West Coast '67 psychedelia but is (in most instances) great. The Byrds (obviously) have made a big impression on Gregg and with this album it seems he wants the world to know. First track 'Anytime Soon' with it's ever so slightly distorted folk guitar picking evokes the spirit of The Kinks especially when the Waterloo Sunset style harmonies enter proceedings at the chorus. Sophomore track 'Come Sunday' paints an almost Pavement (in Major Leagues mode) picture that manages to be melancholy and gorgeous - a joy to behold.

Unfortunately it starts to slow down by 'Scooter Girl' which is quite a lovely song ruined by overtly twee lyrics: "Scooter girl my scooter girl, did you ever see a cuter girl" which is trite enough but then Gregg coos "She smells of petrol & perfume…" - I think it's fair to say he's welcome to her. Recent single 'Casting Couch' is another case of the same, quite a pretty song but hopelessly naïve lyrics cost this its place in your heart. "If you wanna get ahead in this business, You gotta be eager to please", which sounds more like an apology for how cute the album sounds when it should really be celebrating.

It is only a minor dip though as elsewhere on the album there are some moments of genius, a glorious mandolin melody on 'Snow' that steals the show and sounds exactly like the Tales Of The Unexpected theme tune (it's on UK Gold for those of you too young to remember). 'The Ballad of Wendi Deng' is a lesson in acoustic song writing that could almost be on REM's 'Automatic For The People' (honest) with it's great riff and Hawaiian steel guitars.

Overall this is an exquisite body of work and most of what's on offer does make you smile, although the prevailing theme of very sweet songs sung very sweetly will be a little too sickly for some."

Casting Couch review - playlouder.com (February 2005)

Yet more proof that you don't have to be American to make a decent job of going all West Coast on us, and this feller isn't even a Celt. Instead, it's Alan Gregg, a gentleman who many of you might recall from his days in New Zealand's perennial nearly men the Mutton Birds, and the lovely folks at Storm have done well to recognise this from the obscurity of last year's solo album. The subject matter might be somewhat on the seedy side - as you've probably anticipated, it is indeed about a bloke, shall we say, making the most of his claims to be able to kick-start the careers of the naïve - but this is as deceptively fluffy and twinkly a single as has come out this so far this year, even if, as we fear, it's going to remain a strictly hidden treasure.

Marshmallow album review - Manchester Online (February 2005)
- Stephen Gilliver

"TEENAGE Fanclub are one of those bands that the critics adore because they never really made it. They're the underdogs, three ordinary boys fighting valiantly in an image-dominated pop world, armed solely with gorgeous melodies and divine harmonies.

Marshmallow are in all these respects the same. Except there's only one ordinary boy.

Former bassist with New Zealand acoustic outfit The Mutton Birds, Alan Gregg has lately flown solo under the name Marshmallow, to all intents and purposes a one-man-band.

Originally released last year to near-universal critical slavering and general public indifference, his debut album is presently being re-issued to further press plaudits and only marginally increased public interest. Boosted by the addition of a couple of bonus tracks, Marshmallow is a treasure trove of pop nuggets. That lead single and album opener Anytime Soon, a melodic masterwork of Fanclub-inspired beauty, failed to barge its way into the charts towards the tail-end of last year was nothing short of criminal.

It sets a towering watermark, yet other highlights here comprise songs two through thirteen out of thirteen. This is not an album to which the phrase 'standout track' may be casually applied. Latest single Casting Couch, a deliciously playful tale of an unscrupulous casting director taking advantage of fame-hungry young ladies, is breezy, jangly guitar pop of the kind that has never been sufficiently fashionable to go out of fashion.

Elsewhere, Do the Decent Thing bears the jazz traces that characterised Everything But The Girl's early output and, more recently, Kings Of Convenience's.

Marshmallow's tone is a mix of gloom and infectious optimism. Its lyrical foundations are largely set in the faux-naïve girl-yearning in which The Beach Boys dealt before their California dreams died. The occasional lapse into cliché represents the albums only blemish.

Making amends and then some, though, are the likes of Born Again, a tenderly affecting dedication to the lover who has transformed Gregg's life and The Ballad of Wendi Deng, a wry dig at the apparent nepotism shown by Rupert Murdoch towards his wife. The latter song was hilariously singled out for praise by Murdoch's own daily The Times.

Marshmallow is an album about which you'll enthuse to your friends because it's superb and one that you'll cherish dearly because it's your little secret, one to which the ignorant masses are utterly oblivious. Outstanding."

Marshmallow album review - 2-4-7-music.com (February 2005)
- Alan Sargeant

Stars In Your Eyes, Pop Idol, Ally McBeal, The Delays, Little House On The Prairie; they're all things that at one time or another we've all had to confess some kind of embarrassing (if well hidden) weakness for. And like any alcoholic itching nervously for the nearest off-licence, we find ourselves awkwardly pacing the floor looking for the next regrettable fix. We're not a proud bunch, even if we do manage to conceal it well enough under a smokescreen of insults and company sensitive cynicism. We're not pathetic for actually liking any of the above. We're pathetic for pretending not to. And Marshmallow leads us a similar merry dance; it's light, it's fluffy and it's about as meaningful as a bag of candyfloss, but it's also just as irresistible.

To all intents and purposes the candy-spawn of Alan Gregg - former bass player and songwriter for New Zealand acoustic heroes the Mutton Birds - Marshmallow pretty much recapitulates the holy trinity of jangly pop-whimsy: Teenage Fanclub ('Anytime Soon', 'Scooter Girl'), the Boo Radleys ('Snow', 'Casting Couch') and the Magnetic Fields ('The Ballad Of Wendi Deng', 'Born Again', 'Open Mic Night'). And if it wasn't for the astonishingly cavalier approach to lyric writing ('Scooter Girl, Scooter Girl/Did You Ever See Such A Cuter Girl/A Different Kind Of Commuter Girl/Born To Ride, She's A Scooter Girl') it would be a fine old pop album indeed. But what's charming and whimsical in the hands of some ('Life In A Northern Town' is as good an example as any) is simply unsophisticated in others. Put it this way; it's a naivety you're likely to want to club with a mallet, as opposed to one you want to smother with motherly kisses.

If you were arrested (rather than mugged) by the fanciful, gilded harmonies of The Thrills or found yourself unable not to jump up and yell like a good 'un to 'It's Been A Long Time Coming' then Marshmallow might very well be a sugary little wet spot of delight for you this winter. Only keep it to yourself.

Anytime Soon review - Manchester Online (October 2004)
- Stephen Gilliver

MARSHMALLOW - who sometimes goes under the pseudonym Alan Gregg - seems to have spent endless hours in his bedroom listening to a continous stream of Teenage Fanclub.

So what has he come up with? Wistful lyrics that are alternately universal and charmingly original, backed up by gilded harmonies and underpinned by an achingly sublime melody and a truly memorable looping guitar jangle.

An instantly and enduringly irresistable pop treasure, current trends suggest that Anytime Soon is unlikely to scratch, let alone dent, the charts.

Destined to be one of the great lost singles of the year.

Marshmallow review - NME (December 2003)
- Jim Alexander

Debut solo album from New Zealand songsmith and ex-Mutton Bird

Recent evidence might suggest otherwise, but not all musical folk from Down Under are knuckle-draggers. Instead adopted London, Kiwi-in-exile and ex-Mutton Bird Alan Gregg will charm anybody who's had even the slightest heart palpitation listening to sugar-soaked harmony and acoustic pop.

Mainly charting relationship ebbs and flows, this is smart, thoughtful stuff that - in tracks like the surprisingly cutting Rupert Murdoch satire 'The Ballad Of Wendi Deng' - offers much more than just wistful might-have-beens. Fortunately the music is equally sharp, working through every strain of melodic guitar pop to summon up flattering comparisons to The Go-Betweens, Teenage Fanclub and The Byrds. There's also the odd twee moment, but by adding neat romantic lyricism to aching, beautiful tunes, this is an album to take pleasure in.

Marshmallow review - BBC Nottingham (12th December 2003)
- Nigel Bell

Back in the mid-90's when Crowded House were flying the flag for quality songwriting, New Zealand and Australia began throwing out a host of bands in a similar vein. One of the best was the Mutton Birds.

They never achieved stardom despite heavy touring and quality songs like Anchor Me. They hardly ever came to Nottingham although they seemed to be a permanent fixture at Derby's Flowerpot.

The Mutton Birds are gone but their bass player Alan Gregg is giving it another go. His new outfit is Marshmallow. It's possibly the worst name he could have chosen but don't let that put you off. It's proof he should have been given more chance to contribute songs to the Mutton Birds because this CD is a joy.

It's pure pop, catchy tunes and uplifting lyrics. It's Kings of Convenience with more lightness. And if you want pop credibility try adding contributions by Ron Sexsmith and Bic Runga.

Scooter Girl, Let Me Love You and Open Mic Night are songs you want to listen to again and again.

If Alan ever takes Marshmallow on the road let's hope he takes a trip to the Social or Rescue Rooms instead of going to Derby again.

Marshmallow review - Q (UK) (December 2003)
- Peter Kane

Nasty old world getting you down? Try a little Marshmallow. Recorded mostly in the attic of his adopted London home, it's the nomme de studio of former Mutton Birds bassist Alan Gregg. Stuffed with strummy melodies that linger after just one listen and the sort of wilfully gauche lyrics Stephen Duffy revels in, a more delightfully bittersweet debut is hard to imagine. So while Anytime Soon chimes like peak Teenage Fanclub, Do The Decent Thing pins a surprise pregnancy to a samba rhythm and Come Sunday janglingly delights in the pain and pleasure of a snatched affair. A lovely surprise.

Marshmallow review - The Guardian (12th December 2003)

Few new rock bands can claim to have Jeremy Paxman on the guest list for their forthcoming London show, but then few new rock bands can claim to have tackled the unlikely subject of Rupert Murdoch's marriage in song either. The Ballad Of Wendi Deng - which notes that the Antipodean mogul wouldn't trade his wife "for all the TV in China" - is a solitary acidic moment on an otherwise delicate and lovely record recorded in an east London attic. Elsewhere, it's powered by jangling guitars and carries the influence of the Go-Betweens, most notably on the sharply observed tale of unexpected pregnancy, Do The Right Thing (sic). Not, it must be said, an album that's liable to change the world, but one that makes it a significantly better place while it plays.

Marshmallow review - Bang magazine (October 2003)
- Jennifer Nine

Holy confectionary. It's tempting to ignore band names, but ex-Mutton Birds bassist Alan Gregg's jangle-pop is, frankly, Marshmallow by name, sugar-rush by nature, and anyone with a heroic sweet tooth will gobble this up.

Opener 'Anytime Soon' shivers as blissfully as Joe Pernice's icing sugariest moments or, inevitably, Teenage Fanclub's. But as Gregg sails into a Go-Betweensy 'Come Sunday' and the Belle and Sebastian-esque bossa nova of 'Do The Decent Thing', you realise Marshmallow is Teenage Fanclub stuffed with marzipan, oiled in hundreds and thousands, drifting through a sea of golden syrup en route to sleeping with the chocolate fishes.

So, expect crushes and breathy choruses and rollercoastered harmonies and - clearly the result of a dare to write the toe- curliest indie-babe paean ever - a terrifyingly cutesy 'Scooter Girl'. Marshmallow comes to you straight from a pastel parallel universe whose Motown, Beatles and Stones are Sarah Records, Herman's Hermits and the Archies.

Marshmallow review - The Times (31 Oct 2003)

DREADFUL name for a band, but Marshmallow's debut is one of the loveliest records you'll hear all year. The London based New Zealander Alan Gregg has written 11 songs that fans of early Teenage Fanclub, Stephen Duffy, or Crowded House will love. Simple, story-telling lyrics about the little things in life are set to Byrd-sy folk-pop tunes with melodies you remember for days. Ron Sexsmith and Bic Runga make guest appearancs, but Gregg is the star.

Marshmallow review - Comes With A Smile (Autumn 2003)
- Matt Dornan

Essentially a solo record from one time Mutton Bird Alan Gregg, Marshmallow predictably deliver music for those with a sweet tooth. Opener Anytime Soon takes Teenage Fanclub's Start Again as a template and rounds off any edges, while Come Sunday adds some sheen to a Lucksmiths-esque ode to domestic chores. So far, so pretty and it's a formula Gregg is happy to employ throughout. But whilst it's hard to fault the musicianship, production or pitch-perfect deliveries (guests include Ron Sexsmith and Bic Runga), 'Marshmallow' does not fare so well when its lyrics are put under any degree of scrutiny. This is rarely an obstacle among power-pop addicts, for whom cheesy, throwaway lyrics come with the territory, but couplets like "See her once and you won't forget her / Riding a light blue lambretta" (Scooter Girl) or "you led me up the garden path...I cried enough tears to fill the bath" (Over & Done) won't cut it outside of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Shrug off such shortcomings and Gregg's likeable voice and effortless command of the cute and kitsch make for an idyllic listen, the loungey Do The Decent Thing and the Byrdsian closer Later On both commensurate with the best the genre can offer.

Marshmallow review - NZ Musician (December 2002)
- Emma Philpott

This is a solo collection released by former Mutton Birds bass player Alan Gregg, recorded both here and in London where he is based. The 11 songs here are both personal and whimsical, including sweet songs about crushes, being crushed and y'know, love and stuff. Mostly a guitar and vocals affair with a hint of the Birds ingrained in its often storytelling lyrical style, this is an enduring little album. The instant charmer is the quirky Scooter Girl, full of easy rhymes ("you may have seen her round / her wheels don't seem to touch the ground") and jangly rhythms. A few songs, including Anytime Soon and Over & Done benefit from a little help from Bic Runga and others, while David Long lends some polish in the studio. 'Marshmallow' may not have been on your purchase list for 2002, but its bag of sweetly melancholy-dipped love songs are well worth clearing some space near your stereo.

Marshmallow review - Listener (2nd November 2002)
- Nick Bollinger

As an occasional songwriter, Alan Gregg gave the Mutton Birds their sweet, soft centre with whimsical singalongs such as "Come Around" and "Wellington". The name Marshmallow, which Gregg has coined as an all-purpose identity for himself and his album, seems spot-on. But it also hides something far more substantial and tasty. This is an album the revels in its smallness. Think of Pacifier; now try to imagine the opposite. Lots of acoustic guitars and gently jangling electrics underpin Gregg's lovely, light melodic voice, which is often woven into harmony, sometimes with stellar guests such as Bic Runga and Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith.

Gregg writes great pop songs, loosely fashioned on the British model. Picture Ray Davies, daydreaming in provincial New Zealand rather than suburban London. "I know you think I'm handsome/and of course I think you're pretty" goes a couplet that typifies Gregg's quaintly old-world romanticism. He doesn't shy from old-fashioned rhyme, either; his delight is audible in "Scooter Girl", where he gets to match "forget her" with "Lambretta" and "cuter" with "commuter". Cole Porter would have approved.

So light and spongy is Marshmallow on the surface that Gregg is able to slip in, almost undetected, the hard satire of "The Ballad of Wendi Deng" in which he mocks Rupert Murdoch and his "trophy wife". (Prize line: "He wouldn't trade her for all the TV in China").

Marshmallow review - tearaway.co.nz (November 2002)

Former Muttonbirds bass-player Alan Gregg takes the centre-stage on this album, his first solo effort, with collaborators Bic Runga, Ron Sexsmith, and David Long.

Gregg sings a lot about the unattainable girl, and his strum-along-with-me numbers ache with sincerity.

Beach-boy harmonies and layering give this album a wholesome sound, though Gregg doesn't stray too far from his trademark formula of plodding rhythms, humble chord structures, and circling bass-lines, except for a timid bossa-nova, Do the Decent Thing, and the charming instrumental lullaby, Interlude.

The lyrics sometimes had me wincing, although they are clumsily endearing: "Let's not beat about the bush, let's get down to the nitty-gritty."

Gregg does occasionally sound like he has a mouth full of marshmallow. Nevertheless, it is a cheerful bag of songs that he has written.

Marshmallow review - smokecds.com (October 2002)

Former Mutton Bird Alan Gregg penned one or two of the group's finest songs, and now he's back with a more-or-less solo album which shows he's got plenty more great pop songs up his sleeve. Marshmallow's music is made up of simple pop songs that are soft, squishy and oh-so-sweet. Long's a great lyricist and he's kept the production simple to capture a naïve, easy-going feel that's sympathetic to the songwriting. A sparingly-used guest cast includes a couple of big name friends - Bic Runga and Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith - but they're purely there to back up Gregg's one man show, which has all the makings of an unassuming hit for fans of bands like The Stereo Bus or, of course, The Mutton Birds.

Marshmallow review - Capital Times (Wellington, NZ) (2nd October 2002)
- Aaron Watson

THERE'S a 1960s feel to Marshmallow. Perhaps it's the Byrds-like guitar jangle and Kinks-eque harmonies on Anytime. Or the Bacharach-inspired arrangement of Do the Decent Thing (although Burt is unlikely to have used a Casiotone bossa-nova beat as a bed). A vehicle for the songs of former Mutton Birds and Stereo Bus bass player Alan Gregg, the album features Bic Runga (who plays drums but doesn't sing), former Mutton Birds guitarist David Long, former Garageland guitarist Andrew Claridge and Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Full of pretty melodies and spacious arrangements, Marshmallow works best in its quiet moments (perhaps it should be called Marsh-mellow). Highlights include Interlude with its pseudo Tui sounds in the background, the bittersweet sadness of Over and Done and the uplifting, tongue-in-cheek Born Again. There are a few flat moments (Come Sunday is a bland pop whine that the world would be better off without), but this is a good album with the potential to grow on you.

Marshmallow review - NZ Herald (5th October 2002)
- Russell Baillie

Marshmallow is the nom de studio of Alan Gregg, the former Mutton Birds bassist who contributed a few songs to his old band's albums over the years, as well as being a very fine plucker of the four-string whose work has featured in recordings of Dave Dobbyn, the Stereo Bus and Bic Runga (who guests on this).

His were the tracks which came with lyrics with the groan-inducing rhymes and giddy tunes (Wellington, There's A Limit, Come Around).

And the ten tracks of this recorded-at-home-in-London-with-friends effort are chocka with similar naive charms, while being possibly the slowest guitar pop record you're likely to hear this year.

But as its gears shift all the way from dawdle to pedestrian, Gregg still holds the attention and delivers sweet odes to media tycoon wives (The Ballad of Wendi Deng), a certain Londoner on a Lambretta (Scooter Girl), and various other objects of his affection.

And on songs like Anytime Soon and Let Me Love You ( Like There's No Tomorrow) he manages to give jangly guitar-playing, forlorn-voiced hopeless romantics a very good name.