Rating: * * * *
The New Zealand pop landscape does not lack for weirdy beardy wonderboys. Maybe that's why Lawrence Arabia - that's James Milne on his much-stamped passport - has gone under his particular moniker, to stand out a little.
But his marvellous new album does that anyway. Much of the rest of the wonderboy club (various Phoenix Foundationites, Liam Finn among others) appear in the production and player credits to this set which Milne recorded all over the planet.
It's his second Lawrence album, following one he simultaneously released with a record from his then-band The Reduction Agents in 2006. That first solo effort was spare-room pop experimentation. This is much more like the Agents' shining pop-rock effort which delivered the great The Pool, a song which was a standout on the Eagle Vs Shark soundtrack, otherwise dominated by those Phoenix fellows.
Firstly a health warning: Milne follows the nicotine enthusiasm of The Pool with new song I've Smoked Too Much. It would seem he's not going to be appearing as a rock'n'role model on those smokefree posters anytime soon.
But everything else is positively fragrant, especially when it's triggering a strong sense of Beatles deja vu on the first two of the 10 tracks, with the Lennon-lilt to opener Look Like A Fool and the George Harrisonesque jangle of The Undesirables.
Milne's magpie tendencies are shot through with effervescent pop spirit which make for some irresistible choruses, especially on the indelible Apple Pie Bed and the aforementioned country-grilled Smoked.
Elsewhere, his funny, starry-eyed lyrics also do an entertaining line in matters coital, Mr Arabia sounding more D.H. than T.E. Lawrence on the likes of the tale of nocturnal liaison Auckland CBD Part Two (which starts off Jonathan Richman before boarding the disco cruise-liner), as well as the scathing social set dissection of The Beautiful Young Crew.
Only 10 songs long, it almost understays its welcome. But Chant Darling delivers sexy, funny geekpop by the barrel.