By playing up their laddish side the Brummies have ignored what makes them great
The first time NME met The Twang, the band’s bassist tried to spike our drink with class A drugs, several members of them unwantedly groped our testicles, while, if we had a pound for every time they’ve called us a “cunt”, we’d be writing this review wearing Converse encrusted with the tears of unicorns.
Yet, even from day one, there were things about the Birmingham band that didn’t sit completely right. Recalling that first meeting, even when they were trying to drop pharmaceuticals into our drinks, not for a second did it seem threatening. It always felt forced – as if someone had a word in their ear and said, “NME’s here, play to the gallery you scallies.” And even when their interviews recalled the now infamous tale of bassist Jon Watkin being arrested for threatening someone with a samurai sword, it was hard to take the story seriously. Anyway, we much preferred talking to the bassist about his knowledge of political theory or with singer Phil Etheridge about his bruised heart. They were a bunch of lads wearing cardigans (and when was the last time you had your head kicked in by a lad dressed by Primark?). Not only that, but it was never their alleged roguishness that appealed in the first place. That charm lay within the undisputable heart that beat at the epicentre of their brilliant, hook-laden songs. We were led to believe that The Twang were the rightful heirs to the Mondays. In actual fact, they’re a band closer in spirit to the squishy heart of The Smiths. They’re a band infinitely better when they forsake lairy for lovely.
The Twang, you see, are a misunderstood band. Marketed and tagged as an outfit pitched somewhere between The Beano’s Bash Street Kids and the cast of Scum, you can’t help feeling that if they’d hailed from, say, Tunbridge Wells, nobody would have bothered sharing tales involving the misuse of oriental armoury. Perhaps it’s the irritating, unjust and oft-peddled myth that the working classes are incapable of being able to transgress the denomination of oik. Yeah, co-singer Martin Saunders may have only recently quit his job as a packer in Solihull’s HP Sauce factory, and yes, Etheridge might not be Dostoevsky, but consider the lead-off single ‘Wide Awake’ and its refrain of “And the sun’s gone down and I’d love it to rise/Lets me know that I’ve survived” – you’d be hard pushed to say that this is a band devoid of ambition, let alone soul.
And it’s where the band play up their intelligence, their romantic streak – heck, their soppiness – that ‘Love It When I Feel Like This’ excels. This writer will maintain until his last breath that new single ‘Either Way’ is one of the greatest love songs ever written. It sounds like the Streets remixing the Roses, and Etheridge’s broad Brummie “I loov yowww” is one of the most aorta-swelling moments we can recall outside of the birth of a child, let alone delivered within the context of a pop song.
Likewise, the magnificent ‘Push The Ghosts’ – a chest-swelling ode to friendship and unquenchable optimism – is equipped with a verse that’s genuinely edgy, and a verse that is scrumptiously uplifting. Those that say Stu Hartland’s flanger pedal-fed guitars recall the sound of U2 wally The Edge are missing the point – we can’t remember the last time that Irish band peddled a guitar sound that articulated the horror of the morning after a drug binge. It’s a neat trick repeated on the dub stutter of ‘Got Me Sussed’ and its sister song, ‘Reap What You Sow’. Consider what we said about The Edge, and apply it to those who decry the band as baggy copyists. We can’t remember a Flowered Up song (and, really, we try not to) that sounds like it’s got this much grit and dirt under its fingernails.
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Yet, sadly, ‘Love It When I Feel Like This’ is a record as flawed as it is fabulous. It has to be said that there’s at least three songs that are utter dogshit – ‘Loosely Dancing’ is essentially a frivolous, looped chorus tainted with the misjudged use of a parping harmonica; ‘Cloudy Room’ would be a bad song no matter how many twists and turns of cod reggae are tagged on the end; and ‘The Neighbour’ reaffirms the worst excesses of the band’s faux thuggishness we outlined previously. It’s a song about beating up a nuisance neighbour. Coming from the man who pours his heart out on excellent jangly Smiths-styled ballad ‘Two Lovers’ (witness Etheridge’s dewy vocal and experience your spine shake), well, it’s pathetic.
Fundamentally, the problem is this: ‘Love It When I Feel Like This’ is a record constructed by confused auteurs. It’s a record not worth being called a cunt for, but certainly worth a rummage. Frankly, we truly believed their debut would be something much, much more. The moments on this album, when they are true to themselves, are scrumptious – a collection of songs to believe in, and it’s depressing that the crud that surrounds these moments suggests that, in the transition from bright new hopes to the band baring fruit before us, The Twang have not only lost much of what made them special, but an actual grasp on who they truly are.
They may think playing the role of larging-it geezers will catapult them to the upper echelons of rock infamy, but we weren’t looking for thugs. And what were we looking for? Well, you know, hugs.