Science & Nature

Science & Nature

Score

They like to live life in a bubble...

Amid the brouhaha surrounding The Bluetones‘ recent ill-conceived comments in [I]NME [/I]regarding English culture and the alleged ‘dilution’ thereof, a far more revealing admission slipped by unnoticed: “I don’t want us to be big,” Mark Morriss said, thereby espousing the ultimate heresy in a Britpop realm where music is widely regarded as just the means by which to get on TV, crack America, buy a yacht, bone a supermodel and ultimately become [a]Mick Jagger[/a]. But then, The Bluetones have always been one step to the side – if never demonstrably ahead – of the rest. They like to live life in a bubble (you know, “no complications or trouble”) and therein lies this deceptive band’s eternal mixed blessing.

A cynic might reply, “If you don’t want to be big you’re going the right way about it.” Like they care: four years on from their debut, we find the principals sticking broadly to what they know, just getting better at it. After the rather oppressive jangle-pop orthodoxy of 1998’s ‘Return To The Last Chance Saloon’, ‘Science & Nature’ is a mostly successful attempt to tap the impressionistic vein of modernist melancholy the ‘Tones have always held within their sights. The title presumably refers to the dilemma – particularly acute at this millennial juncture – of how to enjoy the benefits of the techno-fixated now without corrupting the eternal truths. It’s an existential balancing act mirrored in the music, which melds the synthetic with the organic far better than we might have come to expect, given the group’s ingrained trad reflexes.

), but only when we run into the jaunty farrago of ‘Autophilia Or ‘How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Car’‘ is the spell truly broken. When it comes to songs about cars and girls, it seems The Bluetones are on safer ground sticking to the latter.

Which is how and why the record ends on such a satisfying note. ‘Emily’s Pine’ is a great finale, a subtly groovy lament to a lover lost, maybe dead, but not forgotten. And the preceding ‘Slack Jaw’, though brief, is possibly the band at their best, a forlorn hoedown with old-school REM mandolins and accordion reflecting the twinkle in Mark’s eye as he recalls an unfulfilled liaison: “I hope that one day when you’re ancient/Preparing for another lonely night/You close your eyes for one last time and you see me in my prime/The great lost love of my life”. Proof that fires do burn beneath the well-mannered visage.

The cynics won’t blink an eyelid. Like pebbles on a beach, you could blithely toss The Bluetones to the waves and everything would doubtless continue much the same as before. Pick them up and study the patterns etched by time’s relentless passage, however, and you’ll find comfort and maybe even a few surprises in these well-worn home truths.