There are flashes of brilliance but the singer's third album misfires too often
Back in the mid-’00s, when indie rock was the sort of thing people would talk about in bars, the correct response to the words ‘Tom Vek’ was ‘underrated’. He’d found that perfect niche, in which every member of his fanbase felt that they, uniquely, had found something special that the wider world wasn’t aware of, and so constantly broadcast this to the wider world. That’s why they sent out the search parties when he went missing for seven years between recording his 2004 debut and his 2011 return. “Let’s hope it doesn’t take him another seven years this time,” the critics chortled in their lukewarm reviews. Well, in 2014 they’ve got their wish, for better or worse.
Initially, it’s for better. ‘How Am I Meant To Know’ proves Vek’s longstanding thesis about not fixing things that ain’t broke. And ‘Sherman (Animals In The Jungle)’ shows brilliantly why people pined for him long after the punk-funk wave he washed in on was forgotten. With a chorus that self-immolates faster than a buddhist monk outside a US embassy in 1972, it’s a hit, be it 2004, 2011 or now.
Soon enough he runs out of road and turns into Fred from Spector going through a Devo phase. Pinned awkwardly between his underground and the mainstream personas, Tom is as unsure as the rest of us as to what the deal is with him. He misjudges the pop and then overcompensates by grinding it up against a detuned blankness, where his disaffected mask of boredom becomes indistinguishable from good ol’ fashioned boredom. ‘A Mistake’ is what it says. ‘Trying To Do Better’ isn’t succeeding by much. ‘Ton Of Bricks’ hits you like 500g of memory foam. An inessential second act is neatly bisected by the bull-knackers-fence-caught low of ‘The Girl You Wouldn’t Leave For Any Other Girl’, where Tom inexplicably gets out his acoustic guitar and croaks pretty much just that line until it’s over, which it isn’t soon enough. Only at the very end, on ‘Let’s Pray’, does his reliance on repetition become the weapon it should be, turning the title line into one long meditation about exactly how fucked we are. It’s doomy, dangerous and has a bassline that sounds like he’s playing conkers with wrecking balls. ‘Luck’ has its moments, but in terms of defining a way forward for Vek, chance would be a fine thing.