Music For The People
In 2009’s indieverse, few figures are more worthy of your time than Tom
Clarke. Speaker of common sense and beacon of restraint in an industry that prides itself on futile debauchery, his deft touch on The Enemy¹s debut differentiated it from the turgid drink beer/shag bird dross peddled by their supposed peers. He promised a “huge” rock record as its follow-up, and ‘Music For The People’ is indeed gigantic beyond reason.
Sadly though, The Enemy¹s second is weighed down with pomp and bluster, and nowhere more so than on ‘Elephant Song’ as lumpen an opener as can
be imagined. The Jam might have been the most-dropped-name in relation to their debut, but this sounds like friggin’ Def Leppard, such is the overblown sense of grandeur. It¹s fuelled by Liam Watts’ steel-armed tub-thumping and needless string shimmers that aim for The Who at their most ambitious, but only make The Enemy sound like a pub band with a half-decent synth.
The idea that dousing the rousing punk-rock fury of ‘We’ll Live And Die…’ in bland production flourishes will somehow result in a more stately record pollutes much of ‘Music…’. ‘Sing When You’re In Love”s painfully tagged-on handclaps seem to forget they¹re not yet a stadium band, ’51st State’ employs that most rubbish of things, a one-note guitar solo, ’Keep Losing’, the most touching and honest song here, is rendered laughable by a neutered wash of violins. Buffed to an over-polished sheen, the howling rage that made us care about them in the first place is buried. And it’s startling just how familiar it all is. Alongside Leppard, ‘Nation Of Checkout Girls’ borrows heavily from ‘Common People’, while ‘Last Goodbye’ could easily be mistaken for Cast’s ‘Walkaway’ (Cast!) and ‘Don’t Break The Red Tape’ simply [I]is[/I]’London Calling’.
As a lyricist, Clarke¹s ability to cut to the nub of a moment was a real
boon. And there are astute (if out-of-date) lines here such as ‘…Red Tape”s “Welcome to England, where there is no fun, there is no left, there is no right/New Labour¹s a joke, just another Thatcherite” (delivered with a snarl that¹d make PiL-era Johnny Rotten sneer in appreciation); or ‘Sing When You’re In Love”s tender painting of “a single sad moment when we say our goodbyes”. You might therefore hope that if the music sucks, at least the lyrics might be worth shouting along to in a field this summer. Yet this new focus on the vast has left Clarke unwilling or unable to engage with the small dramas that characterise all our lives. In ‘Last Goodbye’ he repeats “Ever felt so down you can¹t go on?” over and over in an almost orgiastic
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display of blandness rather than opening up (just as ‘…Red Tape”s chorus is a repetitive whirlpool of clichéd sloganeering that negates the punch of the verse). While it¹s always laudable when artists sing socially conscious songs, something¹s been lost in translation. Rhyming “generation” with “corporation” in ‘Nation Of Checkout Girls’ is just hackneyed, and ’51st State’, with its repeated mantra “Oil! Drums!”, has the mawkish naiveté of your right-on mate waffling on about how fucked up ‘stuff’ is at the minute.
So what happened? Somewhere along the way The Enemy lost sight of what they excel at. They thought by turning everything up, slapping some strings on and speaking in grand gestures they would make a significant step forward; unfortunately, by interring Clarke¹s songwriting under a veneer of false confidence they¹ve only produced a lame duck of a record.