Prepare to have your music collection well and truly deconstructed
The cruellest ones are always the most alluring. Gaze into the eyes of Tom Burke – chief recruiter to the suave cult of Citizens! – and risk being hypnotised, entranced by a world where lovers grow cold-blooded and be-scaled, where friends seduce your girlfriends and sisters, where true romance only happens in utter isolation, encapsulated by videos in which hunchbacks kidnap people to turn them into real-life puppets. Don’t be deceived by Tom’s innocent Alexis Taylor vocals and charming funk-punk melodies as sweet as a gingerbread house. He means to eat your soul.
Alex Kapranos got lured in; one spin of a Citizens! demo and he insisted on producing their debut album, bringing a stark, artful and arch atmosphere to the sort of chirpy but cool tunes you previously thought could only be written by bands named after some surreal sort of club. And Alex wound up the wickedness, adding a crisp dislocation to the sinister twinkle pop of ‘True Romance’ and giving the robo-Bowie ‘Reptile’ a metallic sheen in keeping with the hollowness at the heart of the self-loathing lyric, disgusted by its own moral decline towards that of a Premiership footballer – “[i]I’m turning into a reptile[/i]”, Tom trills in a voice like a forked tongue flicking across cold lips. The result is an album as art smart as Franz, as disco droll as Hot Chip, as pose pop as The Naked And Famous and as catchy and cool as the Two Door lot on the other lot’s Indian cycling holiday.
There are chilling abduction-pop tunes like ‘Let’s Go All The Way’ that could be ‘FEELINGCALLEDLOVE’ remixed by Josef Fritzl. There are predatory synth parps, lusty electro-bass and a balls-deep boudoir rock outro that make ‘(I’m In Love With Your) Girlfriend’ (“I’m in love with your girlfriend/I took her number from your phone”) the ‘What She Came For’ you’ll end up in a punch-up to a wedding. There’s ‘Monster’ admitting to the inherent beast inside to a backing that, incongruously, sounds like a funk punk ABBA.
Still, you can glimpse a flicker of humanity between the churning hordes of demons on ‘Here We Are’. ‘Caroline’ – essentially The Magnetic Fields deciding they should really be as big as The Killers – yearns for lost friendship; there’s a yowling effervescence to ‘She Said’, and the minimalist Rio Carnival of ‘Love You More’ dredges a glint of romantic redemption from a tale of sexual exploitation that could either be the stuff of a Dispatches investigation into sex trafficking or about the industry and media’s lairy manipulation of girlbands. And before the 25th-century reggae of ‘Know Yourself’ closes the record in characteristically inventive fashion – a bold step on from the recent spate of indie sprite-pop – the maudlin ‘I Wouldn’t Want To’ comes drenched in a fuzzy nostalgia that hints at Citizens! having – gasp! – an actual soul.
You’ll probably wake up with your clothes on backwards, but it’s worth it: look into their eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes…