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The debut album from London indie puppydogs GoodBooks arrives in the same breath – and with the same name – as Anton Corbijn’s darker-than-thunder movie about Joy Division. Twist of timing or cunning ploy? Either way, you wouldn’t have ordinarily put these Wurlitzer-peddling indie popsters on the same shelf as Manchester’s all-time harbingers of darkness. What this debut proves, is that books of any quality shouldn’t be judged by their covers.
After a slew of indie singles and a blink-and-you-missed-it deal with hipster house Transgressive, GoodBooks were swallowed up by big bad Columbia. Bass player Christopher Porter had the date tattooed on his wrist to celebrate. The only other notable bit of backstory is that they were apparently named by Holly Willoughby, the woman who presents Dancing On Ice with Phillip Schofield. The Brian Jonestown Massacre these are not.
All of which makes ‘Control’ a little bit of a revelation: the missing link between Maximo Park and Mogwai. It’s chimey and swirly, and so fluid that it moves. British without being snide or rakish; electro-fused without sounding faddish, its feyness masks a spring-loaded tension and smouldering menace, like Joy Division with a pastel-coloured paint job. Or Belle & Sebastian after a boob and dental job.
Yes, ‘Control’ is a silent assassin, and this becomes clear from opening gambit, ‘Beautiful To Watch’ – a journey to the edges of sanity that sounds like it was recorded underwater, it’s a song about killing for pleasure. “You killed him ’cos it’s beautiful to watch”, coos Max Cooke like he’s singing about kittens and cakes even at the album’s very darkest. And plenty of ‘Control’ is blacker than hell – with a reach that stretches across all of history. ‘The Curse Of Saul’ casts Bush’n’Blair against King Saul Of Israel to ask whether anything has changed. “It’s the worst allegory I’ve ever written,” admits Max, but its indie bounce is ushered along on a wave of Gatecrasher-hopping house that’s so hypnotic you don’t notice. More devastating is the single, ‘Passchendaele’, picking up indie rock’s grim fascination with World War One. Essentially a treatise on the cycle of war, its tale of a fallen soldier’s echo down the generations of his family, rhyming “English bayonets” with “German cigarettes” puts a human face to the poppy fields with bloodcurdling effect.
It’s not all doom and gloom – well, it is mainly, but with the trauma out of the way after the first third, the pace picks up, with ‘Alice’ setting up a near militaristic art-rock middle section. The twinkly ‘Leni’ lets a love song shine through the clouds of angst, while a buffed up ‘Walk With Me’ has designs on Franz’s ‘Take Me Out’. It doesn’t all work – the greatest debuts never do, not completely. Most of the rest of the songs are a little too beige and interchangeable, and GoodBooks would do well to rock out a little harder.
But that’s OK, they’ve got time to grow. ‘Control’ is a classic in miniature; intoxicating, completely intangible and,
for the most part, irresistible.