Critics are unanimous: Jack Penate’s new album ‘Everything Is New’ marks a startling creative leap forward. This unexpected shift – from knock-kneed cod-reggae troubadour to sophisticated dance-pop craftsman – has been greeted with the kind of stupefied, slack-jawed amazement that might greet a five-year-old who’s mastered string theory, or a dog who’s miraculously learned to juggle.
There’s something slightly patronising about this. Penate’s debut album wasn’t that bad, just a little lightweight. Neither is his new effort as weird and unexpected as people are making out. Penate has produced an album of soulful, Belaearic-tinged electro-pop. It’s not like he’s gone free jazz, or gabba, or reinterpreted the hits of Jacques Brel using only hurdy-gurdy and swanee whistle.
Even so, it’s an undeniably impressive record, one to file alongside The Horrors’ ‘Primary Colours’ and The Maccabees’ ‘Wall Of Arms’ in the growing pantheon of Indie Bands’ Second Albums That Are Actually Really Good.
It’s tempting to imagine that these records set an important precedent. From now on, bands who stubbornly serve up more of the same unappetising gruel – The Enemy, say – will be shunned and ridiculed, while bands who attempt something exotic and surprising will be embraced and revered.
Nor is this pleasing trend limited to mid-level indie bands. Look at Kasabian. Even their fiercest critics would have to accept that ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ – with its psychedelic lurches of tempo and subject matter – displays a certain manic, goggle-eyed inventiveness.
How to explain this newfound drive for experimentation amongst guitar bands? Perhaps it’s a by-product of music’s new economic reality. Albums don’t sell anymore – their only function is to promote a tour. Which means the pressure is off. If hardly anyone is going to pay for the thing, you might as well have fun making it. Why play safe?
Most people assumed the rise of the iPod would ultimately kill the album as a format, as people increasingly downloaded individual tracks. Clearly, that hasn’t happened. CDs have perished; albums have proved remarkably resilient.
All of which gives us a reason to face the future with excitement and enthusiasm, rather than cynicism and dread.
Klaxons, we learnt this week, are not releasing a second record until 2010. Given current trends, it’s possible to believe that they’ll actually use that time to craft something progressive and intriguing, rather than sit around scoffing their own weight in MDMA cupcakes.
Who knows where this new mood might take today’s baby bands? Perhaps Glasvegas will decide to take stock, realise they’re bored of being dour and gloomy, and return with an album of jazz-handing Gilbert and Sullivan covers? Maybe Vampire Weekend will go thrash, or Florence will write some actual tunes, rather than just bellowing indiscriminately over harp-strings. The possibilities are endless…