Milkmaid Grand Army
Like finding Roman crockery in the veg patch, Midlake’s mountainous songbook ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ shambled out from Texan Nowheresville like a piece of history in 2006. A masterclass in Eagles-y FM rock and earthy Fleetwood folk, it sat like an awkward gem in the 21st century’s HTMLifestyle of online banking and satnav-defined vacations. But this meant it signified a return to good old-fashioned songwriting.
On this, their debut seven-track mini-album (reissued from 2001), however, leading man Tim Smith’s admiration for Radiohead –the most forward-thinking band of our age – reveals itself. It’s a devotion Smith’s never hidden, but it’s also one he never again exposed so rawly after this first effort.
While ‘Milkmaid…’ has allowed the band time to work on new material, its reappearance certainly doesn’t arrive in a shower of ebullience. “It’s like a bad diary,” Smith recently mumbled to a US website.
Despite that dismissal, opener ‘She Removes Her Spiral Hair’ is great – a mass of drum loops, tubular guitar and graceful organ nestled next to Smith’s wounded yearn, all vacuumed through a bramble gramophone. ‘Paper Gown’ is sweet, if a little like Muse’s ‘Unintended’. ‘Excited But Not Enough’ shuffles with housebound, dressing-gowned weariness but remains uplifting, “Millions sing, but I go inside/Excited but not enough,” mopes Smith like a foetal Thom Yorke. Meanwhile, the forlorn ‘Roller Skate (Farewell June)’ sounds like Beck reluctantly escorting Eels to the gallows. Optimism’s not a feature.
OK, so Smith spent some time listening to ‘OK Computer’ when he was young. But since its original release the Texans have found their own voice. It’s not a bad record, just a forgotten rehearsal you’d think Midlake would rather keep shackled in history’s backyard.