Superabundance // Transgressive
Knobbly knees, Madness, braces, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, bouncy castles, the Monster Raving Loony Party – doesn’t it all make you want to shoot yourself in the face? English eccentricity is surely the saddest facet of parochial Britain, a ‘tradition’ built from the desperation of lonely men screaming for attention by squatting in a baked bean bath on regional news. It’s not dignified nor is it very healthy. From the suicidal Screaming Lord Sutch to Reg from The Bill’s publicised breakdown and Blur’s collapse under the shadow of their ‘Country House’ whimsy, English eccentricity seems to be a watchword for depression.
Young Knives have always had a toe dipped in this eccentricity: a tweed uniform, a bassist called The House Of Lords, their own brand of jam. This, of course, was as much about a band who looked so different from all other ‘indie’ groups at the time finding a language within which they could be accepted and have fun. However, with this second album, clearly the fun has stopped and the wacky depression has set in. Far removed from their energetic Mercury-nominated debut ‘Voices Of Animals And Men’, ‘Superabundance’ feels exhausted and unhappy.
Singer Henry Dartnall is worried about death, he’s worried about his weight, he’s worried about being alone, he’s worried about flies being attracted to his clothes; Jesus, by track four he’s talking about killing himself. Unfortunately, he’s opening his heart over a soundtrack with all the solemnity of a space hopper. Young Knives seem patently unable to progress and the ‘Village Green’-psychedelia, the textbook Franz guitars and the funny, pounding rhythms that informed the whimsical comedy of the last album’s best moments (‘Weekends And Bleak Days (Hot Summer)’ and ‘She’s Attracted To’) sit out of context here. Their old jolly slapstick capering and newfound misanthropy do not mix well – it’s not a juxtaposition that invokes noble Falstaffian death-of-a-clown melancholy; no, it’s more pathetic. Like a drunk Santa pissing himself at Bluewater.
The vivacious ‘Up All Night’, bathed in Elastica riffs, reveals the misery at the heart of this album. Young Knives despair at
a scene where “everybody looks famous… everybody is special in their mind’s eye”. Everybody, that is, except Henry, who moans:
“I got dressed up to the nines/I took a look in the mirror, I wished I was thinner then everything would be fine”. While many people, from The Cribs to Lightspeed Champion, have recently cursed the indie scene there’s something miserable about Young Knives’ insistence on recording such a weary sentiment over such well-crafted chart indie.
To be fair, when they drop the angles’n’shouting shtick for a moment their dejected mood is far less irksome. Invoking the spirit of that arch-eccentric Syd Barrett, the lilting psychedelic peculiarities of ‘Mummy Light The Fire’ make it a highlight – beautifully underpinned by strings, Henry chants softly, “Fear, I feel fear, I feel floods of tears”. Similarly, ‘Turn Tail’’s swooning pessimistic mantra: “We’re all slaves on this ship/This ship’s sinking” is well-suited to its chiming atmosphere.
What with the band’s affinity for oddball Britishness at all costs, it’s not surprising that ‘Superabundance’’s lineage, Barrett aside, lies almost entirely in the sounds of Britpop. ‘Rue the Days’’ jangling guitars have been lifted from ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, ‘Light Switch’ is straight from Sleeper’s fatigued pop stable and ‘Flies’ is an unfortunate, brief and thick-fingered take on Spiritualized, (though, of course, Jason Pierce’s solemn soul is swapped for some daydreaming about insects). Even the moments of nonconformity are road-mapped by ’90s heroes and ‘I Can Hardly See Them Anymore’’s arresting industrial thump has pounded straight from Blur’s anti-pop record ‘13’. The band have always been capable of infectious songs, but on ‘Superabundance’ their post-punk-pop stutters. There are far too many tracks here in desperate need of further inspiration. ‘Light Switch’, ‘Current Of The River’, ‘Fit 4 U’ (which lilts worryingly along like an average Hard-Fi song) and astronomically irritating lead single ‘Terra Firma’ – none of these would have made the Knives’ debut.
It’s not that they can’t write a chorus any more – ‘Counters’’ suicidal chant “Sitting in the front seat/Turning on the motor/Sucking on a hosepipe” is as catchy as anything ever written about gassing yourself, but somehow (even though they have touched this subject before with their best song ‘Loughborough Suicide’) this band’s well-crafted identity struggles to support such hefty introspection. Likewise ‘Dyed In The Wool’’s desperation is weary and wearing. “I have to hold you in a head-lock/I have to force you into wedlock”, sighs Henry depressingly. “That’s how I am/I’m dyed in the wool”. They are a band stuck in the mud as well; unable to move forwards and gloomily displeased with where they stand. It’s a great shame, but ‘Superabundance’ is a miserable follow-up to ‘Voices Of Animals And Men’ – unable to find pleasure either in itself or anyone else. At their best the Young Knives can write as good a pop song as anyone in the country, but this is a disappointing second effort ironically weighed down by the English eccentricities that once helped them stand out from the pack.