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This was actually the second album by Mice, the first was "Because I Can". If the name Julianne Regan sounds familiar its because she was doing this after the initial break up of her more famous group All About Eve.
Mice was headed by the lady herself and also featured Tim McTighe who played bass, Christian Hayes (also known as Bic for some reason) who played guitar, Andy Cousin who also played bass on a couple of tracks, Marty Wilson-Piper who also played guitar on a few tracks & Mark Price who played drums.
In reality this isn't really a second album at all, its actually more like a rehash or "Best Of" album as it contains all of the tracks off Because I Can and a few b-sides, some remixes & some previously unreleased demo versions.
The band Mice didn't exist very long as an entity so this album is pretty hard to find these day but its well worth it. They have a very indie sound and were classed as "shoegazers" so if you want acts to compare them to you could list them with bands like Lush or early Elastica.
I found my copy on Amazon and it wasn't very expensive at all (actually it cost me nothing because I had an Amazon voucher at the time) and its very good value for money considering you get 19 tracks but they didn't makes a huge amount of copies of either Mice album and they were never advertised well (if at all) which resulted in very low sales and the record label went out of business after this album.
So whats on New & Improved?
01 - Dear Sir.
Writing credits are for Julianne & Tim and its quite a rocky little track that reminds me of "Connection" by Elastica so its a quite a good start to the album.
All the harmonies are Julianne singing with herself multitracked so this would have been impossible to perform live without a backing track. This was their third & final single released from the album before their record company (the rather badly named Permanent Records) went bust leaving albums unsold and owing the band money.
02 - Miss World.
Written by Julianne its about the girl who wishes for better things in her future & gets them only to discover they don't last. Such is life! Its got a really nice clean acoustic guitar and reminds me a lot of "We Are The Pigs" by Suede.
03 - Star As Bright As You Are.
Written by Julianne and its about being ordinary. Rather an unusual choice of subject but she was never one for the standard lyric, its that Coventry blood no doubt. Basically the subtext here is "Everyone else is better than me", its the litany of the underdog. It's got a cracking guitar line in the middle 8 though!
04 - Trumpet Song.
Writing credits for this are for Julianne & Tim again. Its quite upbeat in its chord structure with a rather cool counterpoint melody and its about blowing your own trumpet and devolves into psychedelia in the middle 8. And yes, it features some killer trumpet lines.
05 - The Milkman (Full-Cream Version).
Another track written by Julianne & Tim and I am totally not sure about that Blur inspired intro which could have been lifted from "Tracy Jacks" like most of the song to be honest. Its very Britpop in its roots (bits of it are also a lot like Blurs "Trouble In The Message Centre" as well) but I quite like it. You'll probably pick up on bits of "My Sharona" by The Knack as well, I certainly did. The original version of this track was the bands second single release.
06 - Mat's Prozac.
Also written by Julianne & Tim, I have no clue who Mat is or why he needed Prozac (having read the lyrics "Doctor" Mat appears to be a dealer & may be referencing Juliannes own moods that led to the break up of All About Eve as she did suffer from a breakdown), the lyric "I dont need to feel wonderful, just ok" speaks volumes. This was the first single to be released off this album
07 - Blue Sonic Boy.
Also penned by Julianne & Tim, a nice intro with acoustic guitar which picks up in a much rockier track with weird lyrics which I'm pretty certain refer to Dr Who, definately refer to Daleks & also may refer to The KLF who were known as The Timelords & did drive an Ice Cream Van (read the lyrics of "We're Justified & Ancient" to see what I mean). I'm still trying to decide if the lyric about "looking in my pocket for a razor" is some kind of suicide or self harming reference though.
08 - Bang Bang.
Written by Julianne, It sounds like it was an All About Eve track as it would have really fitted on any of their albums. It seems to be about stopping someone from shooting themself by telling them how much they have to live for, a rather bleak subject that she manages to sing in a rather upbeat way to be honest.
09 - Battersea.
Writing credits go to Julianne, Andy, Marty & Mark. Apparently this was an All About Eve demo that never made an album due to the original break up of the band. The rather alliterative lyrics are very weird, but certainly written from a womans point of view as is proved by the line "Don't do this to a woman of a certain age".
10 - Messed Up.
Written by Julianne, another Britpop sounding track about someone in the middle of the happiness scale with undertones of a teenaged romance. It sounds a LOT like "Animal Nitrate" by Suede although the brass section in the middle 8 screams of "Penny Lane" by The Beatles.
11 - Star.
Written by Julianne it oozes of how disatisfied she is with being famous and quite frankly would rather not be. Its very relaxed but rather Gothic (its the bassline) and picks up for the chorus.
12 - Tiny Window.
Written by Julianne & Andy, its got a rather dischordant opening as Juliannes vocals are equally dischordant but sound utterly brilliant. Its about someone trying to find time in their busy life and reminds me of "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles in places. That dischordant guitar & string line in the middle 8 is brilliant, its very Beatles indeed.
13 - Pyjamadrama.
Written by Julianne in a rather 50's doo-wop style, you could be forgiven for thinking you were about to listen to "Earth Angel". Julianne sings in a very breathy sirenlike style, very erotic!
14 - Martian Man.
Written by Lynsey De Paul. No, your eyes aren't misleading you. I said Lynsey De Paul, she of "Rock Bottom" and "Sugar Me" fame. It opens like a piece of classic 80's New Romance that would have Gary Numan crying into his flysuit because he didn't write it. It has seriously fabulous synth lines which rather remind me of "Down In The Park" by Numan or "Human Racing" by Nik Kershaw. I assume this kind of track would be the result if Kate Bush & Gary Numan had decided to collaborate at their peaks.
15 - Unborn Angel (demo).
Written by Julianna & Tim you can totally tell by its rawness that it was a demo. To be honest I get the feeling this is the best copy of this track that actually exists. Lots of acoustic guitar, strings and Julianne. Its about abortion if you can't tell from the lyrics. It kind of reminds me of "Breath" by Pink Floyd.
16 - Dumb Girl.
Another one written by Julianne & Tim, it has a rather psychedelic intro which can be a tad harsh on the ears. Juliannes vocals are also rather dischordant and speak volumes about how some women are viewed.
17 - A Dark Place.
Written by Julianne, I really love the phased guitars behind this. They really remind me a lot of Lush (except you can hear Julianne singing) and its also a lot like "Within Without You" by The Beatles. Its about getting out of a situation the singer would rather not have been in but was for far too long judging by the lyrics.
18 - Hit Or Miss.
Written by Julianne, It has triphop elements to it with the downbeat piano and counterpointed vocals, this one is a lot like certain songs by Lush as well. I think fans of Emma Andersons writing (think "Last Night" and your in the right ballpark) would certainly enjoy both this and A Dark Place. It also reminds me of "Hammer Horror" and "Breathing" by Kate Bush in both its musical style and vocal delivery.
19 - Julie Christie (instrumental).
Written by Julianne, she also plays all the instruments on this apart from the drums. Rather talented isn't she? Lots of e-bowed guitar which I always love and its rather dark and bleak but extremely enticing like a siren. The upright overstrung piano oozes early Tori Amos which the xylophones compliment very well indeed. Its almost like something off a Gothic horror film soundtrack.
That picture of the dark haired lovely is Julianne looking hotter than a summer day at noon on Mercury, the red text can be rather difficult to read but at least its a decent size.
Contains the lyrics to all the songs but the text is very small & quite hard to read over some of the extremely arty backing photos of the band. Its all printed in red so its bloody hard to read.
Has a full track listing, band lineup and replicates smaller versions of some of the images on the inlay.
Tunes consist of typically jangly guitars but they do use acoustic guitars to great effect as well. Lyrics are weird & unusual with some very enjoyable tracks like Dear Sir, Miss World & Blue Sonic Boy. Thanks to the intervention of the Jamtart record label this album actually managed to get some kind of release so Regan fans all over the world are greatful to them.
If you are a fan of All About Eve or enjoy a good 90's indie style sound or great female vocals and tightly crafted guitar lines then New & Improved is well worth a listen.
(This review also appears on Ciao)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dear Sir
2 Miss World
3 Star As Bright As You Are
4 Trumpet Song
6 Mats Prozac
7 Blue Sonic Boy
8 Bang Bang
10 Messed Up
12 Tiny Window
14 Martian Man
15 Unborn Angel
16 Dumb Girl
17 Dark Place
18 Hit Or Miss
19 Julie Christie