The popsters borrow some emo and a bit of Kaiser Chiefs to give us lots of good tunes!
The past couple of years have been kind to Glamorous Indie Rock’n’Roll, with Britpop: The Next Generation giving rise to a new collection of freaks and heroes to put our faith in. There’s rite-of-passage second albums from Kasabian, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers all due this year, and when you factor in Arctic Monkeys, that’s one big shadow cast over anyone hoping to make the same impact in 2006.
Step forward The Automatic, four teenage lads with a sense of humour and a nice line in B-movie visuals that will prove crucial later on. Hailing from Cowbridge, Wales, in the heart of Lostprophets country, their heritage could be one of their greatest virtues. Though a pop group, their proximity to the Emo Armies (the locals they owe the most to are the fabulous Jarcrew) mean they’ve absorbed a knack for powerchords, downtuning and pogo-punk that, in the year of Fall Out Boy, make them totally now while at the same time having an infinite amount more in common with early Kaiser Chiefs. It’s no coincidence they come from the same B-Unique stable as them and The Ordinary Boys; the home of pop success for real indie bands.
Their second unique selling point is their keyboard player: soon all bands will have an Alex Pennie. The Automatic, having not only made a virtue of having a deranged midget with borderline Tourette’s bashing a keyboard with his fists and screeching backing vocals, have made him sound like a new instrument all of its own.
But the really great thing about The Automatic is that they channel everything it is to be a teenager, and thousands of other things besides, into song. There’s no slow bits; instead, every single tune has pop, punk, emo, techno, electro and funk rammed in, and there’s 12 of these melt-in-the-mouth morsels. Opener ‘That’s What She Said’ begins fast, and the album only speeds up from there, while winningly setting out the agenda of Generation Why in all its confused, up for it glory. “So punk is dead! And this is so new! Your revolution cooked up in a boardroom! It’s like the message on your T-shirt! I don’t know what it means, but the colours really work!”
‘Raoul’ covers similar territory, but places the salvation of a generation in the hands of the bloke from the gaff outside their rehearsal space, the Mediterranean Sandwich Emporium. You probably had to be there, but ‘Raoul’ does unveil their next great trick, whereby they dip suddenly into minor-key melancholia without ever taking their foot off the gas, showing the cracks or, indeed, turning off the bleepy electrode noises for a second. “It doesn’t seem like you mean it”, sings Rob sturdily, “I don’t believe that you believe it”. It’s as emo as they get, but it’s heartbreaking, just as the bit where ace debut ‘Recover’ changes gear at the end of the chorus to declare “’cos you’ll never dance again” and make it sound like a threat.
But best by far of the arsenal of singles is ‘Monster’; this year’s ‘I Predict A Riot’ for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the catchiest indie hit of the summer, boasting a hook that could disembowel a whale and a geniusly hilarious a cappella segment at the end that amazingly also qualifies it as this year’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’. Just like ‘I Predict A Riot’ it’s also a fabulously realistic account of getting beaten up of a weekend by boneheaded Ben Shermanites. Or monsters, as they’re otherwise known. Either way, you’re not going to be able to avoid it this summer.
Having proved themselves masterful at the art of chorus, our heroes switch gear – not going slow, simply going bananas. ‘You Shout, You Shout’, ‘Seriously… I Hate You Guys’, ‘On The Campaign Trail’ and ‘Team Drama’ are all as catchy and blistering with barbed, multi-vocalled invective, militaristic keyboard stomps and Pennie shrieking away in the background. OK, you could say it dips a bit, yet through all the twists and turns, you barely notice that all of this is simply ratcheting up the tension for ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’’s jawdropping final act, a song called ‘By My Side’, the sound of industrial apocalypse against a backdrop of cities crumbling down, casting The Automatic, no longer as cheeky chappies, but rock-hard bloody freedom fighters. “Is this the end of the world?”, they scream against a boneshaking backing that sees Frost deflect lightning bolts off his guitar and Iwan batter the shit out of his drums until a final declaration, “the best defence is attack!” Against what? It scarcely matters. If ‘Monster’ is the feelgood hit of the summer, then this is the feelmad scrap of the moshpit, the ‘Z’ on the end of Generation Why, and the sound of all the Teen Drama left in their wake being channelled and turned into a force for change. Or as Rob sings, in a hail of bullets, “I’ve set traps for myself to keep me on track”.
Only ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’ sounds more complete, answering its own questions so fully and dramatically. In the year where our first generation heroes will struggle with second-series rites-of-passage, here’s an album of such boundless energy that you can see the sparks coming off it. And crucially, get burnt.