January 27, 2012
Pulled Apart By Horses - 'Tough Love'
A record you’ll be revisiting for years to come
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8 / 10
A few disquieting signs have been emanating from the Pulled Apart By Horses camp in the lead-up to their second album. There’s been talk of enhanced “musicianship”, polished “songcraft”, and greater “ambition”, while a glance at the tracklisting of ‘Tough Love’ reveals a grand total of zero song titles as bizarre and unwieldy as ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’ or ‘I’ve Got Guestlist To Rory O’Hara’s Suicide’. Coming from almost any other band, you’d consider these to be positive, natural developments, and in many ways, they are. But the truth is, we love PABH because – and not in spite – of their limitations. To mess around with them, you fear, is to risk becoming Towed Along By Ponies instead.
It takes precisely one listen to ‘Tough Love’ to realise how spectacularly misplaced that fear is. As early as the second song, the juggernaut of splenetic dissonance that is ‘Wolf Hand’, frontman Tom Hudson screechingly reassures the listener that, “When I was a kid I was a dick/And nothing changes/Threw myself around ’til I was sick/And nothing changes”. With the exception of one rather glaring change, he’s absolutely right: ‘Tough Love’ is everything that you adored about Pulled Apart By Horses the first time around… but better.
It’s hard to put your finger on why, exactly. The presence of Gil Norton certainly looms large, and the former Pixies producer seems to have instilled in the band a degree of self-confidence that allows the tunes – which were, if we’re honest, usually secondary to the live experience – to resonate a bit more. Everything is clearer and more crystalline than before, and the likes of ‘VENOM’ and ‘Bromance Ain’t Dead’ – two tuneful, hyper-adrenalised rock’n’roll songs that just so happen to be dripping in raw guts and gore – benefit enormously from that.
Yes, the album is (partly) a play for a larger audience, and if your favourite thing about the band’s eponymous 2010 debut was its willingness to lapse into nonsensical time signatures at a moment’s notice, you may be disappointed by ‘Tough Love’’s relative straight-aheadness. On the whole, however, the album works not by virtue of dialling things down, but simply tightening them up. There’s a bit more going on between ‘Tough Love’’s tinnitus-riddled ears, and as a result it feels like a far more significant and complete work than its predecessor.
But the most telling factor in the album’s success seems to be the years of constant touring that have turned PABH into an Exocet missile of a band. At a shade over half an hour long, there’s very little fat on this record, with only the 105-second thrash of ‘Some Mothers’ feeling a tad extraneous. Everything else, frankly, rocks like fuck: the melodic sludge-grunge of ‘Epic Myth’, the frenzied ‘Night Of The Living’ – even LP closer ‘Everything Dipped In Gold’, which pulls a surprise shoegazery coda out of its hat, is focused, direct and powerfully awesome. It’s the sound of a band who are obviously eager to escape the toilet-circuit ghetto, but who aren’t naive enough to abandon the qualities that have sustained them through it. They’re just going to improve their way out of it.
And that, really, is what ‘Tough Love’ amounts to: an improvement. It’s not a markedly different album, just a markedly better one. PABH will always be one of those bands who are better experienced in an enclosed space surrounded by likeminded maniacs – their reputation as one of Britain’s best live bands is well-earned, after all – but ‘Tough Love’ is more than just tour-fodder. This is a record you’ll be revisiting for years to come.
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