Still singing about terraces, belting out choruses and “borrowing” ideas
There was something almost laughably presumptuous about The Enemy’s decision to call their second album ‘Music For The People’ in 2009. To recap: the Coventry band had just followed up their Weller-scented debut ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ with a dud that fat-fingeredly ‘borrowed’ from the combined songbooks of The Clash, Led Zep and Blur, to name just a few, and sounded like the mashed-up contents of a year-long dedication to greatest hits compilations sicked up on a plate. Might ‘Music By Other People’ have been more appropriate under the circumstances? Most probably, but another misstep like that and they’d be calling their next record ‘Music For One Person, Optimistically’. Swiftly followed by ‘Taxi For Tom Clarke’.
Fortunately, The Enemy are smarter than some people would like to believe, and have ’fessed up that ‘Music…’ was an overly preachy misfire explained in part by rushed sessions that saw them knocking up material in the studio. ‘Streets In The Sky’, by contrast, was whittled down from more than 30 songs, and swaps the finger-wagging stuff for a more relaxed worldview: “We used to sing about how shit life was, now we just want to party,” frontman Clarke told NME recently, pushing past us to get to the rum punch bowl.
But if that sounds like a cop-out in the face of mounting crisis, ‘Streets In The Sky’ (named after a documentary about a Sheffield council estate) is actually more a subtle shift in emphasis than a dramatic shift in tack. Indeed, the album’s cover hints heavily at where they’re headed: these are the same scruffbag terraces Clarke was writing about on the first record, certainly, but with a lick of bright paint that reflects a newfound optimism within the band.
The other surprise with ‘Streets…’ is its production by Joby Ford of hardcore wackjobs The Bronx, a fact which seems plenty significant listening to opener ‘Gimme The Sign’. Sounding leaner and harder than before, the band take aim at a local would-be gangster (“He’s acting like he’s Tupac/But he’s never even seen a gun”) as guitars hit with sledgehammer force. ‘Bigger Cages (Longer Chains)’ applies similar blowtorch heat, sounding for all the world like old touring buddies the Manic Street Preachers in their prime. ‘Saturday’’s bracing terrace fodder finds solace as well as sadness in the treadmill nature of living for the weekend, with Clarke’s soaraway vocal at the end brimming with the promise of escape.
‘1-2-3-4’ revisits the band’s old habit of borderline plagiarism – it sounds exactly like Blondie’s ‘Maria’ performed by a troupe of angry garden gnomes – but they bounce back with ‘Like A Dancer’, which could pass for The Killers with its earworm-y chorus. ‘Come Into My World’ recalls the Foo Fighters’ bland heaviosity, and there’s more bludgeoning to be had with ‘Turn It On’ and ‘Make A Man’, which sound like Supergrass if they held their ale a bit more stoically.
Clarke’s newfound optimism pops up on ‘2 Kids’’ declaration that “Life is good, better than they say/They can never take our memories away”, though the fact it sounds like ‘Maggie May’ sung down the local Yates’s Wine Lodge is a boner-kill. On ‘Get Up And Dance’, he even invites us for a boogie – albeit with the subtlety of a crocodile dragging its screaming prey into a river – and ‘This Is Real’’s blue-collar romance is carried by a heartfelt vocal from Clarke that just about banishes the lurking ghost of Kelly Jones.
Odd misstep aside, though, The Enemy have never sounded more fully themselves than they do here. Knowingly faint praise that may be, but at
least ‘Streets In The Sky’ has the two veg to make its meat-and-potatoes rock achieve some kind of lift-off.