Stewart Lee Reviews The Singles

Comedian Stewart Lee gets to grips with the latest releases

Villagers – Ship Of Promises
Essentially benign, Villagers here lay a tense and never quite consummated ’80s post-punk/neo-psychedelic guitar chug over nautical metaphors. ‘Ship Of Fools’ is sure to comfort morbidly introspective young people who feel adrift, or at sea in their daily lives. Sadly, it fades at just the point where older and more reckless musicians would cut loose and wig out.

The Middle East – The Darkest Side
More apparently fearful youths, this time from Australia, where bands could once be relied upon to do something extreme. ‘The Darkest Side’ is over-cluttered with floaty flutes and whispered vocals, burying the stark vulnerability it might have had in a slurry of schmaltz. Doubtless some depressive teen imagines it speaks directly to them.

The Heartbreaks – I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt To Think Of You
A potentially euphoric indie-pop record is ruined by airless production, note-perfect playing, a metronomic failure to push the beat, and X Factor-type emotive singing. There’s a strange, context-free nod towards proper rock’n’roll with a twangy Link Wray run at 1min 55, followed by a cheesey Rubettes B-side-style sincere spoken-word section. The Railway Children revival starts here. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.

Tunng – Don’t Look Down Or Back
Tunng take the same elements The Middle East muck up – diaphanous female harmonies and softly plucked acoustic guitars – but offset them against twittery electronics, big beats, rural religious chanting and snatches of sudden noise, lifting the whole thing out of the mire. No-one involved in this need feel ashamed of themselves.

Ash – Carnal Love
Ash’s first single, ‘Jack Names The Planets’, was a hormonal, instinctive surge of unknowing genius. Sixteen years later this not-unengaging mid-paced rock ballad is untroubled by either adolescent enthusiasm or the gravity of approaching middlescence. The briefest of hanging cadences on the guitar chord at the end suggests things were about to get interesting, and perhaps will once more.

Marina & The Diamonds – Oh No!
Look, I’m a 43-year-old man, this record isn’t really aimed at me. After four decades on Earth, I am none the wiser about this kind of music. Presumably you jump around to it in nightclubs and tap your feet to it in the car. Then what? The young woman’s staccato phrasing is quite amusing and I enjoyed the knowing histrionics in the “Oh no” bit. Can I stop these reviews now? It’s 20 years since I read NME.

This article originally appeared in the July issue of NME

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