This list is taken from the End Of The Decade issue of NME magazine (on sale November 18th) where each album included is reviewed again from a 2009 perspective, alongside brand new interviews and a look back at the defining musical moments of the past 10 years.
Read the original NME review from 2007:
It’s safe to say that, back in November, had anyone asked us which band’s album would be the first of the new year rush-released due to unprecedented demand, our answer would emphatically have been: “Not MGMT”. That’s not because the self-styled ’70s futurists seemed in any way undeserving of the current furore. It’s only because the last time an album was fast-tracked this quickly it was after Kate Nash’s so-planned ‘slow-burner’ of a single ‘Foundations’ accidentally clattered straight up the chart to Number Two last July, then stayed there for five weeks. Last time we checked, MGMT didn’t have a record-breaking Number Two single. They didn’t even have a name anyone could agree how to say. With their stoner-rock beanies and prog-rock odyssies, it was to the top of the Most Underrated Of 2008 critics’ lists rather than to the front of the display racks of Zavvi that their debut seemed most obviously destined. However, if the stacks of import-only copies of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ shipped in from the States (where the album has been available since the end of January) to satisfy the Brits have already proved one thing, it’s that MGMT are anything but predictable.
“Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives. I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars”, goes opening track ‘Time To Pretend’; already one of the most-quoted lyrics of 2008. The thing is, after a cursory glance at their sleeves for their primary influences (David Bowie, T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac, anything bombastic and ’70s, basically) we’re not sure they are pretending. Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser might look like hippies; they might be credible, fascinating, boundary-pushing artistic originators; but they don’t have any qualms about signing to a major record label that’s going to pump millions of dollars into choppering them from Wireless to yet another day of press and promotion if it’s going to make them a household name. It’s an alt.rock oxymoron pre-loaded to blow Ryan Jarman’s entire belief system apart, and why not? As ‘Time To Pretend’ concludes: “If you’ve got the vision/Why not have some fun?”It’s that vision which is the key to what makes ‘Oracular Spectacular’ – produced by Mercury Rev’s Dave Fridmann – such an important debut.
For all ‘Time To Pretend’’s big talk about embracing rock’s most hackneyed stereotypes, musically the one thing MGMT never are is a cliché. Just as that track ends with you thinking you’ve got them down as neo-psychedelic yuppies in thrall to The Flaming Lips and ostentatious cymbal crashes, ‘Weekend Wars’ opens up a whole new world of Neil Young, baroque and introspection: “Once I was too lazy to bathe/Or paint or write or try to make a change /Now I can shoot a gun to kill my lunch/And I don’t have to love or think too much”. Indeed, for a self-proclaimed bunch of no-nonsense capitalists, there’s a lot of metaphysical moon-gazing going on in MGMT’s lyrics. Witness ‘4th Dimensional Transition’ – a pagan-like cacophony of tribal drumming and questions such as “I am fire, where’s my form?” Or the fact that they got the name for their album by typing the words ‘mystic bullshit’ into Google and looking for alternatives. By fourth track ‘Electric Feel’, they’re off again. This time morphing into electro-funk cringe-meisters manning the mic on ladies’ night: “I said ooh girl, shock me like an electric eel/Baby girl, turn me on with your electric feel”. Unbelievably, they still manage to come out the other side of it more Bowie than Bee Gees – experimental pop chameleons, game enough to try anything at least once.
If there’s one shadow that falls across ‘Oracular Spectacular’’s lunar soundscapes though, it’s that the back-end lacks the twisted punch of the first half. But there is a fair trade-off; the top’s massive cosmic-pop hooks swapped for gargantuan ’70s FM anthems. From the coke-rock wizardry of ‘Of Moons, Birds & Monsters’, to the Elton John adulation at work in ‘The Handshake’, ‘Oracular…’ just gets more ambitious and elaborate the further it goes. Inevitably though, underneath the force of so much extravagance, MGMT’s self-assured armour splits. “People always told me, don’t forget your roots/I know I can feel them underneath my leather boots” (‘The Handshake’), cautions Andrew VanWyngarden on what could be interpreted as a perilous tale of what happens when you exchange your counter-culture ideals for a big Columbia logo on your CD. Is this rare moment of downbeat earnestness where MGMT drop the façade to reveal their real selves? Or is it just one final sardonic dig at the Jarmans of this world and their quaint and out-dated indie morality? MGMT aren’t telling.
Two things are for sure, though. For all its musical philandering, unbridled excess and shrouds of irony, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a record with more musical depth and warmth all year than this one. And right now, while in possession of the most in-demand debut in the world, that pop-star life plan thing’s working out quite nicely for MGMT, thanks ever so much.
99Colour It In
Read the original NME review from 2007:
Pills, speed, acid, crack… chlorine? Bands have been enhanced by all kinds of chemicals over the years on their quest for musical nirvana, but it’s probably safe to say that ‘Colour It In’ is the first album to be conceived under the eye-watering influence of high-grade municipal pool disinfectant. So, as their peers knock back the luminous rave juice inside their glowsticks and men old enough to be their grandparents flit around casually snorting human ashes, mild-mannered south London types The Maccabees are content getting a serious (natural) buzz off naming songs after their favourite swimming baths, Battersea’s glamorous Latchmere Leisure Centre and its automated wave machine. This is a unique band, for sure.
But a special one? Too artsy to be pop, too polite to rock (one webzine described them, inaccurately, as a cross between Joy Division and Cliff Richard), instead they occupy a place where televised cricket and ’80s kids’ TV artist Tony Hart are as important as any musical influences. One where cute handmade stop-motion videos and self-designed record sleeves co-exist with riotous shows, where felt tips are as significant as moshpits. Yet, since their first bedroom rehearsals in 2003, this Brighton-based quintet and their idiosyncratic way with a wonky hook and a lyric about steam trains has whipped up an increasingly devoted fanbase – so devoted, in fact, that in 2006, The Maccabees became the first band since the Sex Pistols to be threatened by police with a nationwide live ban after one particularly fervent hometown gig ended in a stage invasion that rapidly turned into a semi-riot.
Being Shut Down By The Man aside, they also released five singles, over the course of which we learned that they were a tight-knit bunch (friends since school, when singer Orlando Weeks moved from south London to the coast to study illustration the rest of the band all went with him) with a lovelorn romantic streak a mile wide. What no-one was really ready for was the way that their debut album would update the proud lineage of slightly off-kilter British art-rock (Wire, Blur, Magazine, Futureheads, XTC) with such exhilarating confidence.
Much like recent records by Bloc Party or The Rakes, this is an early-twenties crisis album – articulating that particular sense of ennui and struggle for identity that hits between the last day of school and the first proper paycheck. It’s about dancing and drinking and getting your heart broken for the first time, and looking back to childhood with a bittersweet wistfulness. Particularly about looking back to childhood: ‘Lego’ opens with the lines “Mum said no/To Disneyland” and complains how hard it is to build castles with chewed-up Lego bricks, while ‘Precious Time’ references pre-PlayStation kids’ racing game Scalextric. All this nostalgia is either heart-warmingly familiar and sweetly affecting or insufferably twee, depending on your point of view, but Weeks’ eye for detail is matched only by his honesty and the size of his heart – ‘About Your Dress’ details a nightmare first date, in which he is almost sick on the unfortunate object of his affections, while ‘O.A.V.I.P’ is a tender tribute to his ailing grandmother.
Still, even if you do find the lyrics a little grating, fact is, the music’s just plain great. It may now be practically a legal requirement for all slightly off-kilter British art-rock bands to rope in former Smiths producer Stephen Street, but here he transforms the coiled-spring guitars and staccato vocals of the band’s self-released debut single ‘X-Ray’, filling them with a genuine sense of tension. He also teases out sly choruses and buries nifty detail such as the harmonica at the start of ‘Latchmere’ under crisp, post-punk drum rumbling, making each listen a minor revelation.
It’s not all furrowed-brow guitars and sincere lyrics, though – closing track ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ is a sweet 1930s-sounding ballad played on a thousand tiny mandolins, while Hawaiian guitars waft gently and crickets rub their knees together in the background to keep time. It’s the kind of lovely, heart-shattering little song that makes us even more excited about what their next album’s going to be like.
Mould-breakers, hopeless romantics, unlikeliest of riot-starters: we should all just be glad that albums like this are being made while the sun’s shining outside and we’re alive to enjoy them. Long may The Maccabees keep on swimming against the wave machine’s tide.
Read the original NME review from 2005:
If you were to invent a pop act right now, where would you begin? Well, human beings take too many drugs and start boo-hooing when they don’t get their own way, so you’d create something, like a cartoon character, to front the whole shebang. You’d do something to make sure The Kids’ parents didn’t understand the appeal – it’s the punk rock way, after all. And since we live in such modern times, you’d promote this new popstar not through the conventional channels, like the gig circuit or CD:UK, but through some semi-interactive platform, to really make the whole thing come alive. You’d pair your popstar with the world’s most can’t-get-out-of-your-headable tune, and once the entire project reached critical mass, you’d whack out a single. Congratulations: you’ve just invented the Crazy Frog. You are, to all intents and purposes, a cunt.
Of course, nobody would suggest that Damon Albarn is a cunt – he was far too pretty in his twenties to ever be truly hateable – but if you need proof of how far we’ve come since the first Gorillaz album dropped four years ago, look no further than how unextraordinary the band’s high concept shenanigans seem now. We don’t think, ‘Hold your horses, cartoon characters can’t make albums’ – we just wonder how Gorillaz sold so many albums in the states when 2D’s teeth were such a state. Gorillaz, now, are no more than a normal band. For this second album the music steps up a gear to compensate for that conceptual shortfall by conjuring a unique mix that’s darker but often more accessible than its predecessor and strutting around very much like the ultimate pop album, but that’s not the only significant development.
Where 2001’s ‘Gorillaz’ began life as an elaborate and self-indulgent vanity project and accidentally turned out to be quite good to the tune of six million copies sold, ‘Demon Days’ is, alongside the Coldplay album, one of 2005’s biggest bankers for EMI. None of this is a happy accident, and nothing has been left to chance. It speaks volumes that legal downloads of the splendid lead single ‘Feel Good Inc’ became chart eligible – thanks to a limited run of vinyl, issued to record shops simply to satisfy chart regulations – in the very week that downloads first qualified in the UK charts. Reckon Damon sat at home and thought of that one? Already, the Gorillaz’ return feels less like a group of mavericks operating in some musical wasteland on the edge of civilisationetcetcetc and more as if every boardroom in the Western world has sprung to life with marketing gurus scribbling ‘MAINSTREAM VS UNDERGROUND’, ‘ASDA BUYERS VS PUNK KIDZ’ on flipcharts. The biggest challenge, given the success of the first album, must undoubtedly have been this: how do you manufacture spontaneity?
They haven’t been short of ideas. Practicality, sadly, has got in the way of the band embarking on a series of gorilla gigs (although you should probably approach your local Dixons window display with caution over the next few months). Instead, a similarly self-conscious culture-jamming exercise was set in motion, through which a viral-type campaign encouraged fans to stick anti-celebrity ‘Reject False Icons’ stickers on billboards. One fan recently noted, in their online diary: “Since it's so close to the actual release date I plan on going to the mall this week, and writing ‘Reject False Icons’ on some bathroom stalls. Have to do my part, and trust me, I'm not the only one who has done this... I'm part of a ‘team’ who does this kind of thing every day. Pretty exciting actually.”
‘Exciting.’ Make no mistake, this is as sophisticated and insidious as the ‘street teams’ orchestrated for bands like Busted and McFly, except at least that lot get a free frisbee for their troubles. Alongside (but hamfistedly at odds with) the ‘Reject False Icons’ campaign, Gorillaz also launched their ‘Search For A Star’ online campaign, which incorrectly billed itself as the first online-only talent search. Either it was Gorillaz’ intention to eventually tell applicants ‘Look, Michelle McManus isn’t really that bad – what you’ve done is exactly what she did’, or this supposed satire of the fame game was simply in place to have a laugh at the expense of the band’s fans. At the very least, those fans are being used to promote ‘Demon Days’, just like the fans who bought the ‘collectable’ limited edition ‘Feel Good Inc’ vinyl were used to create acres of publicity when the single charted.
Have those fans been cheated? Have we all been cheated? It all becomes irrelevant as soon as you press play, because beyond the mixed messages and startling lack of logic in the album’s promotion, ‘Demon Days’ may end 2005 as one of the year’s most celebrated albums. Before you even consider the sonic and melodic innovation paraded through the album there’s so much crammed into each of these fifteen songs (without any one of them sounding overproduced or cluttered) that repeated listening is a must. With ‘Demon Days’, repeated listening is like throwing a dolphin a fire escape – entertaining the first time, impossible to predict the outcome on each subsequent attempt. There’s always something new to enjoy.
Instrumental in this album’s charm is Dangermouse’s production, which propels the album far beyond the limits of its predecessor; the standard Gorillaz sonic motifs (light-headed dub, left-of-centre electronic flourishes, caricatured wailing from another planet and the irresistible thud of a thousand bass bins) remain, but there’s a seemingly unselfconscious desire from all parties to innovate within the realms of the modern pop song. They succeed at every turn, and the inevitable rolecall of guest stars keep it moving. With the exception of the London Community Gospel Choir, who’d arguably turn up to the recording of an envelope being opened, this is an unexpected and imaginatively-plucked succession of cameos, taking in De La Soul, Martina Topley-Bird, Neneh Cherry (on the droopily spectacular ‘Kids With Guns’), Roots Manuva (on ‘All Alone’, the most ‘Gorillaz’-sounding track on the album), Ike ‘nice guy’ Turner, Dennis Hopper… Even the score from 'Dawn Of The Dead' pops in to say a spooky hello at the album’s outset.
We also find Shaun Ryder sounding genuinely relevant for the first time in fifteen years, in an electronic pop masterpiece called ‘DARE’. With the arguable exception of ‘O Green World’ (whose chorus lyric, “Uhhh-uhhhhh-uuhhhhh-uhhhh-uh”, sounds like Jimmy Saville at the dentist), ‘DARE’ is the finest moment on an album which never drops below total brilliance: it’s got more hooks than a New Order bassist lookalike convention and will be absolutely everywhere this summer.
If you believe Gorillaz are genuinely inverting popular culture you probably also think Apple present some ‘cool’ sort of alternative to Microsoft, but while ‘Demon Days’ is as fastidiously packaged and cynically promoted as your average Shania Twain release, it’s an honest overview of the rarely-accepted fact that it never really is all about the music, even when the music’s this extraordinary. ‘Demon Days’ is also just a few IQ points away from being as clever as it thinks it is. Pretty clever.
Read the original review from 2000
Just as speed garage disciples make pilgrimages to Aiya Napa to sample their particular preferred sonic tipple, then perhaps space-rockafficionadoes might be pointed in the direction of Iceland. For, despite the nebulous, challenging, resolutely un-commercial noises they create, topping both the singles and albums chart comes at home comes easy to Reykjavik’s Sigur Rós. Dreamy beyond belief, this, Sigur Rós’s second album (the title, roughly translated, means ‘A New Beginning’), explores further the band’s predeliction for non-narrative beauty. Waves of unidentifiable noise, dulcet vibraphone pulses and singer/guitarist Jonsi’s ethereal singing (more like some ghostly instrument than any conventional vocal, borne out by Jonsi’s fictional ‘language’, Hopelandish, which he often sings in) mesh to create an elegant, grand music that’s equally ambient and epic.
On first listen, the album recalls many previous masters of narcotic rock reverie. The serrated guitar blushes of ‘Svefn-G-Englar’ echo seminal tripped-out noiseniks Bardo Pond; while ‘Staralfur’, with its sighing strings and featherlight psychedelia, captures the bilious beauty of Mercury Rev, both pre and circa ‘Deserter’s songs’. Elsewhere, Sigur Rós’ intuitive sense of dynamic suggests kindred spirits in Mogwai, as the drone-drama of ‘Hjartad Hamast’ strings along the foreboding bombast of late Spiritualized.
But Sigur Rós’ music doesn’t feel as if it is composed to be the soundtrack to furtive stude drug-dalliances. There’s a profundity, a palpable vastness to their songs, and a hushed reverence too. This feels like church music, eschewing the sonic cathedrals of shoegazing infamy in favour of music that feels as awesome, as extravagantly bejewelled as, say, the Sacre Couer. And as impressive as this is, it also renders ‘Agaetis Byrjun’ somewhat impenetrable and aloof. You are meant to admire this record, but there’s precious little within its immense grooves that feels human, nothing to actually love.
But this shouldn’t overshadow the breath-taking conceit, the blissful music of this album. Although unlikely to score them the kind of mainstream acclaim they’re accustomed to, Agaetis Byrjum’ will certainly win Sigur Rós some dedicated disciples.
Read a biography of Shellac:
Shellac are an American group composed of Steve Albini (guitar and vocals), Bob Weston (bass guitar and vocals) and Todd Trainer (drums and vocals). Although they have been classified as noise rock and math rock, they describe themselves as a "minimalist rock trio." From Wikipedia
Read the original NME review from 2001:
Time, then, to put away childish things. Like any concession to earthly melody or conventional vocal phrasing. Any last vestige of song structure. Any lingering foothold in clubland. Pop’s last white witch has packed up her pop tent and stolen away, back to the magic kingdom of Björkonia.
After the confinement of 'Selmasongs', the sense of space and solitude is what strikes you first. 'Vespertine' takes place in a huge and empty dreamscape of string sections and heavenly choirs, over-ripe nature imagery and pre-Christian tree worship.
The lusty, feral, growly Björkvoice has gone. Instead we get a full blast of the soaring lungburster Björkvoice on the passion-powered 'Pagan Poetry', in which the gathering orchestral bluster suddenly falls away while Her Royal Shyness proclaims "I love him! I love him!" to anyone within, like, 200 miles. Then there is the uncomfortably intimate, tremble-whisper Björkvoice of 'Cocoon' where she relates the joy of shutting herself away with her lover with a broken music box and some mouldy old string.
For once, the beats are mostly mere texture, even if each layer of static fuzz and rippled microfunk has been painstakingly applied by the finest glitch-and-twitch technicians from San Francisco to Gdansk. Harps flutter and noise machines squit politely on the shamelessly romantic widescreen symphony 'Aurora' and the gorgeous, celestial ballad about fate’s mysterious powers, 'It’s Not Up To You'. Some semblance of orthodox rhythm arrives in the sun-bathed dubtronic finale 'Unison', which is basically that Kia-Ora "too orangey for crows" commercial sung by drunken Eskimos.
Even without the heavy (breathing) clues, [a]Bjork[/a] was clearly in full-on giddy love when she wrote all this, because the great bits of 'Vespertine' make you feel totally sensual and emotionally intoxicated. The annoying bits, mind you, manage to be both cloying and absurdly mannered. Thankfully, enchanting splendour is the only overriding rule in the otherwise lawless queendom of Bjorkonia. 'Vespertine' is way, way off the beaten track. But give it time and you’ll love it there.
94Horse Of The Dog
Read the original NME review from 2002:
Some bands only sound, unwittingly, like a car-crash: [a]Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster[/a] aspire to be one. That is, they plan to drive their own customised mutant band-wagon down any blind alley that will have them. This is to their credit. In times when the flu-rock caucus headed by Coldplay maintains its iron-grip on the centre-ground and the fringes are over-flowing with over-stylised garage bands, the ' Disaster's spunky amateurism and self-destructive ethos puts them at the front of the 'Wacky Races' rock-grid on bravado alone.
Clearly they have no plans to outstay their welcome. 'Horse Of The Dog' only lasts 26 minutes, and most of those are spent rehashing the deranged blend of At The Drive In and The Cramps which fuels them. Odds on the 'Disaster capturing the hearts of Mondeo-driving floating voters remain slim.
That established, on this form their crazed amphetamine psychobilly could clearly reduce any student union bar in Christendom to rubble. The guitars are loud, primitive and classic-sounding; the drums rub shoulders boisterously with the bass. And then there's wafer-thin singer Guy McKnight, who, more showman than shaman, does everything but bleed for the cause.
"[i]I keep falling through holes in the floor[/i]" he screams on 'Fishfingers', clearly remembering the time he attempted to walk the length of Brighton Pier. By a final 'Presidential Wave' it sounds as if the groups fenders are bent out of shape, their fan-belt's gone and Guy has realised he's not so much a ringer for Richard Ashcroft as well, Ian Astbury.
"[i]You gotta look into my eyes, baaaay-beee!"[/I] he howls as the band wade through an ominous blues swamp that threatens to leap out of the speakers and rip your preconceptions out one by one. Hmmm. The indie-'A' roads have been negotiated. The freeway of potential Cult-status lies ahead.Get your motor running...
93Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Read the original NME review from 2005:
There’s an old adage that states The Ramones only have one kind of song. Pah! You know what? People who say that are wrong. What’s more, they’re silly and reek of wee. See, da bruddas actually had two variants of their musical palate. Songs you could jump around like a giddy dog to (‘Blitzkrieg bop’, ‘Carbona Not Glue’) and then songs you could make with girls to (‘I Wanna Be Well’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’). Wanna know something else? Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah make The Ramones look like Radiohead at their eclectically eccentric, genre-hopping ‘Kid A’ era peak.
See the Brooklyn-based band really do only have one song. It’s a shuffling, organ-led number, with jingle jangle guitars, and whimsical, wry lyrics about girls that look like David Bowie, the quest to capture Bigfoot and the growth of beards. It’s both cordial and charming, the kind of song that plays in your head while you’re sat reading Sartre in the library and that foxy librarian comes over to tell you off for chewing gum. Yeah, we’ve all been there.
It’s a brilliant, brilliant song. As good as any Smiths album cut, or anything their spiritual peers REM have recorded in almost 20 years. And, like flumps, blowjobs and trying to sneeze while keeping your eyes open, partaking in it’s consumption is a devoutly enjoyable experience you’ll want to return to again and again. There’s a warmth and familiarity about singer Alec Ounsworth’s garbled lyrical mush that recalls the literature lyricisms of The Cure’s Robert Smith, yet is delivered via the nasal whine of Talking Heads’ David Byrne.
Likewise their chiming indie guitar, driven by the pounding of drums seemingly borrowed from Velvet Underground percussion goddess Moe Tucker, and low frequency bass parts that rumble like an expectant, long-dormant volcano. They create a sound in thrall to beauty and romance and youth, like Catcher In The Rye: The Musical, or an everlasting evening smoking spicy cigarettes with friends in the park as the sunset seeps into the ether. As the songs weave into the fabric of each other, it daubs a visual listen that’s both pretty and pouty. CYHSY’s is a veritable swoon of a record.
Through ‘Details Of The War’, ‘Is This Love?’, ‘Heavy Metal’, or indeed any of the songs that come after a clunker of an opener, would work brilliantly in their singularity, these are songs that would make fine single fodder, tunes that would make your shins skip as you go about your day. It’s just when they’re segued together, with little in the way of dynamic to alter the current of the record’s spin, they become one and the same. As we said, it’s a good song. A beautiful listen. A good record. With a peppering of variation it could have been a moment-defining one, a great record. Here’s to album number two then.
Where they go next time round is a troubling question. You’d hope they would craft another style of song, or molest their existing template into new, challenging ways. Yet circa their debut, CYHSY make the world seem silly and quaint, stylish and aloof, and as a document of beauty, 2006 should see them as peerless for much of their year. Yeah, they’re one-trick ponies alright, but what does that matter when they’re the prettiest mares in the paddock.
Read the original NME review from 2003:
Sometimes those closest to you will play a trick so mean you wonder what you've done to deserve it. They'll lead you down some strange, sunlit path, make you fall in love with them - lazy eye, sticky-out ears, six toes, whatever - then, before you've realised what's happeningm, they've morphed into something completely different creature and disapeared, leaving you holding the still-warm husk of some creature that doesn't even exist anymore. And sometimes it's pop groups who just change.
The Sleepy Jackson's Luke Steele, Western Australia's very own booze-ban, Born Again Brian Wilson, has changed more than most. As NME recently explained, he's managed to slough off two whole versions of the band to date. One ran like fuck at the prospect of recording five albums with the then ale-loving Steele, while the second were unable to understand that TSJ was Steele's vision, his baby, his life and their songs would simply get ignored.
Earlier this year, TSJ released 'The Sleepy Jackson' mini-album and many, many people (including NME) thought it was beamed straight from melancholy heaven. Recalling - seemingly on a whim - Tom Waits, Sparklehorse, Lee Hazlewood, George Harrison, Big Star's Chris Bell and The Beach Boys, this was raw genius scratched and pulled fromk places most of us wouldn't want to visit. Then the fear hit. How could the album proper be better than this? The answer? It isn't. It's different.
Initially, some things appear to be the same. Harrison's luxuriantly bearded ghost - and shiny new wah-wah pedal - make an immediate reappearance on the opener, the gorgeous, falsetto wig-shaker 'Good Dancers', but it soon becomes clear that Steele has dreamed up whole new worlds of colours to draw on.
'Rain Falls For Wind' has a booming, apocalyptic feel owing more to the sexual and nuclear paranoia of mid-'80s Leonard Cohen than the fractured sunshine pop TSJ are more known for. Add a doomy bassline nicked from Bauhaus' ultra-goth classic 'Bela Lugosi's Dead', and the lyric, "[i]I've been drinking, and I've been thinking of you[/i]" and something very powerful indeed emerges. But not as powerful as 'Acid In My Heart', where a truly broken-sounding Steele sails and uneasy course via barrelhouse piano and guitar through the track's propulsive push and pull, before dropping off the edge of a cliff with a chord sequence ripped straight from Bowie's 'Lift On Mars'.
Best of all, though, is the pleasure you can feel coming off Steele in waves, as when the exuberant pedal steel of 'Miniskirt' causes him to yelp with joy, or his sky-splitting howl on the who-like strut of 'Vampire Racecourse'.
Whatever it is that's got him there, whether it's ditching the bottle of finding God, it's worked. Steele's finally taking control of his life, and 'Lovers' finds him moving from the too-cool shadows into a bigger, more cut-throat world where his remarkable talent may get crushed completely or may get the chance to touch many, many people's lives. So it's true then, change is good.
91Let’s Stay Friends
Read the original NME review from 2007:
Frank Carter, Simon Neil… 2007 has welcomed the unlikeliest of heroes with freshly-inked arms. Suitably, Tim Harrington, balding friar-clown lead singer with Rhode Island art-noise go-getters Les Savy Fav, is very unlikely. To the eye, he’s a boiled egg with a tufty ginger beard and darts player’s six-pack whom, during sunshine hours, designs patterned soft furnishings with his wife – oven gloves, bibs and beds for small dogs. However, to the ear, he’s the bellowing voice-box and renegade poet for a potentially life-affecting band.
For a dozen years Harrington and his team-mates have toiled with the kind of incombustible DIY outlook that shelters in the rusting arches of a Transit van or cat-naps under the merch-stand. Through six years of articulate planning ‘Let’s Stay Friends’ – their forth outing – still arrives as a startling cannon-shot message of brain-thawing intent. “The dream is to be the biggest band in the world, but for everyone to still have day jobs,” Tim barked recently. Only a call to arms like this could support a statement like that.
LSF haven’t made their definitive record by accident. The signs were there on 2001’s ‘Go Forth’ – but this is a step up and into the best party on Earth. Agit-punk appetiser ‘The Equestrian’ is the first wild stab of 12 armoured pop songs, while ‘Patty Lee’ manages to sound like a casket of soda-guzzling ghosts or The Blood Brothers ensnaring the Pixies. Better still is garage-rock smackdown ‘Raging In The Plague Age’ – about throwing all the shit bands out of your kingdom like a megalomaniac Hives; or ‘What Would Wolves Do?’ – a jangling coast of feral-punk, every note scented with integrity, can-do attitude and ruthless ambition. Nestling between are ‘Slugs In The Shrubs’, ‘Scotchgard The Credit Card’ and ‘The Lowest Bitter’, each petroleum-stained, diiirty Detroit bass anthems or squealing pop-sensitised post-punkettes (where their adoration of labelmates Bloc Party emerges). There’s also camouflaged cameos from Devendra Banhart, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) and their own fans (via a phone line encouraging contributors to sing over the top of instrumental demos on ‘Scotchgard…’). Frankly, dynasties have been built on less.
Appropriately, the album begins with its final message on the Springsteen-esque statement of ‘Pots & Pans’: “[i]This is where it starts/This is where it ends/We’ll tear this whole place down and build it up again[/i]”. LSF know they’re a revelation, a revolution even. If the response is just, Harrington may become obliged to hang up those oven gloves for good.