“You’re looking to me, but I’m so unprepared for it,” Dana Margolin sings on ‘Back To The Radio’, the first track on Porridge Radio’s third album ‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’. She wrote this song just before the release of their last album, 2020’s ‘Every Bad’, when she felt things were about to change for them. She was right about that. The Brighton band became the newest indie darlings over here and in the States alike; NME gave the album five stars and featured the band in a cover story. It’s a line that easily sums up the feeling of following a beloved album, and all the expectations that come with it.
It’s not as if Porridge Radio shirk the notion of recognition – Margolin winkingly told NME in that cover feature that they want to be as big as Coldplay. While ‘Every Bad’ was built on a gritty sonic foundation, for ‘Waterslide…’ they’ve given the songs a cleaner sheen that backs up their ambition.
This is subtle, though, and the band by no means lose their cathartic edge. Often, Margolin’s voice seems to tremble with a barely contained emotion; and when the timing is right and the impact maximal, she lets it become a ragged yowl. Drummer Sam Yardley contributes a lot to the intensity too, the frantic and crash-heavy fills becoming a second voice in the fray. Take ‘Birthday Party’ as a stellar example. It begins with a casual and controlled facade, even as Margolin describes panic attacks and fixates on death. But steadily she and the band grow frenzied, until by the end the chorus chant of “I don’t wanna be loved” is hammered home with a wild and stirring desperation.
There are plenty of variations in their sound, too. ‘Trying’ is a jangly, jaunty experience, allowing the bass line to breathe amid acoustic guitar and soft drums. ‘The Rip’ is a dance-y offering, powered by synths and a driving hi-hat beat. And ‘Flowers’, a piano ballad, is one of the album’s most memorable moments. Margolin’s vocals are unassumingly impactful with the instrumentation stripped back; the song slowly builds to a rich crescendo that highlights them even further. “Plants do not water themselves”, Margolin sings to a lover, sounding by turns ashamed and spiteful. It’s representative of why she’s a first-rate lyricist, her ability to deliver ugly or muddled sentiments with truthfulness and charisma.
Throughout the album, her lyrical perspective is heartbroken and self-loathing. “I don’t wanna be loved,” she insists on ‘Birthday Party’. “I don’t wanna mean anything to you,” she sneers on ‘Splintered’. “What if I never get it right?” she asks on ‘Trying’. On ‘U Can Be Happy If U Want To’, she breaks into a shout: “I don’t need anything! And I’m never feeling good again!”
That word, “need“, is a central crux of the album, showing up in five different songs. In ‘U Can Be Happy…’ she doesn’t need anything, while on ‘Flowers’, the next track, she admits to “need[ing] it too much.” On the languid ‘Rotten’, she croons: “I’m afraid of taking what I need.” The only word that seems to recur more than that is “want“, which shows up a whopping 104 examples. What Margolin wants and doesn’t want, in each instance of frustration and bleakness, offer the album’s most emphatic moments. Knowing what you want is much easier than figuring out what you need, and it’s from that tension that the album derives its unhinged, vital power.
This is similar to he state of confusion she inhabited on ‘Every Bad’, and a lot of themes continue: on that album’s ‘Pop Song’, she claims she’s rotten and jealous to the core, and on this one she explores those further on, erm, ‘Rotten’ and ‘Jealousy’. But on ‘Waterslide…’ she’s more defeated, less able to muster up bravado or small comforts. With the last album she smirkingly affirmed that she was charming and sweet in between those instances of ugliness, but here she’s evil and bad, and can’t seem to find much relief from that. And while the previous record’s ‘Circling’ finds the sea whispering to her that she’s OK when she’s in need of a friend, on this album’s ‘Flowers’ that same sea “spat in my face, told me, ‘Don’t drag me into this’”.
The album could be considered a sequel to ‘Every Bad’, one that takes its best qualities and pushes them further, moulding them into an even more effective and impactful shape. But it could also simply be considered a representation of how life keeps coming, and it never gets any easier to figure out, regardless of success or experience or confidence. Porridge Radio are sharpening their craft, but they’re not pretending anything’s any easier, and that’s what makes them such a uniquely compelling band.
Release date: May 20
Record label: Secretly Canadian