The Enemy – 'It's Automatic'
The Coventry trio's fourth album is sometimes ham-fisted, but always heartfelt
Mind the message on your way out of The Enemy’s latest, which closes with Charlie Chaplin’s humanist call for compassion at the end of ’The Great Dictator’ – “More than machinery, we need humanity; more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness”. It’s very on-the-nose, but those words obviously resonate with a band who’ve spent much of their career being used as a whetstone for the sharpening of journalistic wits; indeed, the song they appear on (‘What’s A Boy To Do’) is about Tom Clarke’s deliberation over quitting the music industry following the ‘bullying’ he received, much of it mocking his physical appearance, at the hands of writers who’d let their cleverness run away with them.
Yet while Clarke can do little about his height, The Enemy’s music is a different matter, and their last album, 2012’s turgid ‘Streets In The Sky’, deserved the critical booting meted out to it. Three years on, ‘It’s Automatic’ has been posited as a kind of reinvention for the Coventry trio, featuring a more polished, contemporary sound and a lyrical shift away from the social kitchen sink-isms of its predecessors. Clarke certainly hasn’t lost his gift for crafting memorable choruses (‘Don’t Let Nothing Get In The Way’, ‘Everybody Needs Someone’), though they’re often trumpeting sentiments that sound like they were spat out of an inspirational meme generator. “I don’t need no cheap TV to tell me what’s real” goes the overwrought ‘Melody’; “I’ve got a spring in my step and a gale-force wind in my sails” proclaims the defiant ‘Superhero’. You can sing this stuff, but you can’t read it back with a straight face.
For Clarke, however, it’s all meaningful, and The Enemy’s broadness has always been one of the things that endeared them to their fans, even as their detractors tittered. Gethin Pearson’s glossy production – lots of synths, even more reverb, not much in the way of grit – might pose more of a hurdle to a few of those fans, but something had to change after ‘Streets In The Sky’, and ‘It’s Automatic’, whatever its faults, is certainly a better response than doubling-down on a formula that wasn’t working. Instead of making an album for his nebulous constituency of ‘People’, Tom Clarke has made one for himself, and while it’s sometimes ham-fisted, you can’t fault it for being heartfelt.