COUSTEAU

Sunset, 5433 Ballard N.W. 784-4880, $7 9:30 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 4

AUDIENCES CAN SHOW their appreciation for a band in countless ways: hailing them

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No Viagra needed

Cousteau gives that special feeling.

COUSTEAU

Sunset, 5433 Ballard N.W. 784-4880, $7 9:30 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 4

AUDIENCES CAN SHOW their appreciation for a band in countless ways: hailing them with spit, swaying gently with eyes closed, ear-splitting wolf whistles. But according to singer Liam McKahey, gigs by majestic U.K. pop quintet Cousteau are often met with some of the most flattering displays imaginable. "We get a lot of people snogging," he says. And it doesn't always stop at making out, either.

"We actually had one couple fuck at a gig," McKahey continues. "It was in a very small, intimate place in London, with lots of couches and alcoves. And in one of the alcoves off to my right, there were two people getting it on, which I think is the highest compliment people can pay [a band]."

Pop music comes in varying degrees of potency. There are records that make us strut around in our underwear as we belt into a hairbrush and ones that result in unexpected speeding tickets. But Cousteau's self-titled debut (on Palm Pictures) is something rare: one of those top-shelf affairs that makes life seem genuinely richer and more vibrant. And upon repeated listens, the 11-track CD reveals more facets of its heartfelt, yet meticulously crafted, character.

First, there are the songs, written by pianist-guitarist Davey Ray Moor. While tracks like "The Last Good Day of the Year" and "(Shades of) Ruinous Blue" have elicited well-earned comparisons to Burt Bacharach's '60s masterpieces, echoes of Jimmy Webb, David Bowie, and Elvis Costello are also evident throughout Cousteau. "How Will I Know" even recalls the sensual soul epics of Isaac Hayes or Marvin Gaye, a direction the band members say they are exploring further on their nearly completed sophomore release. "I always thought that if you merged the musical sensuality of Sly & the Family Stone with the lyrical intensity of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, you'd have a very potent piece of communication," says Moor of his aesthetic blueprint.

But the band's not-so-secret weapon is McKahey's rich, plummy baritone, which (despite his hazy upper register, as showcased on "Mesmer") is most often likened to Barry White and influential cult crooner Scott Walker. "I've got a very male, very old-fashioned voice," the heavily tattooed Irishman admits. "I use a lot of vibrato. I never set out to sound like Scott Walker, but I've been listening to him since I was a kid. I suppose I have been influenced subconsciously by him."

The combination of the two forces generates a theatrical gravity that exceeds the sum of Cousteau's individual parts. "Davey's one of the best lyricists I've ever read," insists McKahey, a lifelong music buff raised on everything from the Ink Spots to Led Zeppelin. "I've never, ever been able to assimilate lyrics so much that I could climb so completely inside a song. He's brought me to tears loads of times."

Case in point: the poignant closer "Of This Goodbye," which Moor wrote on the eve of guitarist Robin Brown's mother's funeral. "I can remember when we were recording it; Robin was in tears, I was in tears . . . we were all blubbering like a great bunch of idiots," confesses McKahey. "It still drives me to that."

Moor never suggests that McKahey temper such impulses when he opens his mouth. "He brings a stormy, no-holds-barred, absolute dedication to the drama and passion in this music," says the songwriter. "Far be it for me to try and rein the man in when he's trying to do something extraordinary. That intensity of vocal performance isn't to everybody's taste, but it's a very special and wonderful thing."

Since they've crafted a high-quality album that fans will treasure for years to come, one can't help but wonder what albums hold similar places in McKahey's and Moor's hearts. "Innervisions by Stevie Wonder," says the former. "It hits the spot just about every time."

Moor cites Leonard Cohen's 1969 release Songs From a Room. "Even though the man was deeply unfashionable— I don't know why—for many years, that record gave me great solace in my youth because he dealt with largely universal and elemental themes," he explains.

"When I feel the most depressed, it's what people would term 'depressing' music—which I've always found fairly uplifting—that does it best for me," he adds. "Because you're reminded that you are fundamentally connected to a civilization that has individuals within it that are resonating on whatever wavelength you find yourself on."

That line of thinking certainly accounts for much of Cousteau's warm reception so far. But there's more to it than that, insists Moor, who tries not to be discouraged by the chart-topping complaint rock of Limp Bizkit and their ilk. "The way I see it, who talked to the angry guy at the party for very long? Why not go off in a different room, where there's something sexy or interesting or beautiful going on?" And if there's a couch in a secluded corner, so much the better.

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