Album Review: Chapel Club – Palace (Loog/Universal)

Brooding fivesome have requisite charm and sweet subtlety, but cover it in screeds of metaphor and frothy allusion

Back in NME days of yore, there was a regular feature called Portrait Of The Artist As A Consumer where bands talked about things that tickled their cerebral fancy. Perhaps you can tell from its James Joyce-indebted title that it was quite the platform for intellectual cock-waggling. Nick Cave would tip Bergerac (the 17th century French dramatist, not the TV crime series); Dadaism, Tarkovsky and Nietzsche were namedropped with great gusto.

Nothing was deemed wrong then with trying to better oneself through voracious consumption of art, but then somewhere, perhaps with the arrival of [a]Oasis[/a], being a clever dick became something to hide. To be working class was to be ‘real’, and anything else walked around with a big stick up its behind trying to be something it wasn’t – and what’s worse than to be seen trying?

Unfortunately for Lewis Bowman and [a]Chapel Club[/a], proudly displaying your smarts is still perceived as a tad vulgar in certain quarters. You’ll know by now that Lewis fancies himself as quite the rock’n’roll flâneur, a self-proclaimed poet given to bold, hubristic proclamations the likes of which even Johnny Borrell would advise avoiding these days.

There are no less than five flouncy, shoehorned references to Greek mythology on ‘Palace’; you could not count all its gloomy metaphors and similes on both your fingers and toes. All of this would be wholly eye-roll-inducing if it weren’t for the fact that these grand statements are all delivered with a likeable uncertainty – a nervous backwards glance to check whether a rock star would say such things, making ‘Palace’ a portentous kingdom helmed by a conflicted prince wriggling in his throne.

Former single ‘All The Eastern Girls’ probably says it best. It’s charming, spacious and sparkling, possibly the finest production moment on an often flat record (shame on you, Paul Epworth), a paean to getting swept off one’s feet by the beauteous maids who emanate from fancy St Martins College Of Art.

Lewis admits that he “acted like I was your saviour/The shepherd instead of the lamb”. Faced with lovely ladies, he gets in a muddle where his default reaction is one of verbose verbal diarrhoea, never letting apples be apples and desperately trying to impress.

Amidst epic, zooming walls of guitar scree on ‘After The Flood’, he details a walk through the countryside, with “the pines/Hung like reconsidered suicides/From the red palms of mountainsides”. He goes on to compare clouds to swans, then makes the baffling mental leap to a Greek myth about Zeus disguising himself as a swan and raping Helen Of Troy’s mum.

You don’t need us to get our inner Lynne Truss on to point out that this is a semantic nightmare followed by a breakfast of scrambled metaphors. It’s a shame Lewis feels the need to be so wordy, because when he’s not hamstrung by metaphor and spurious allusions to mythology, he’s a fine lyricist.

You’ll already know ‘O Maybe I’, a succinct navigation of the moral compass between
sleazy crapulence and settling down. And when the band stop wielding epic soundscapes for their own sake, they hit the odd pocket of masterful subtlety, as on ‘The Shore’ – lyrically, a trudge through a seaside town (thank you, seagull noises) on a socking great comedown; musically, a sighing litany of heavy-limbed, emotive guitar slumps.

Being derided for being smart is silly, but then so is being smart for smart’s sake. If Lewis would just stop looking over his shoulder and realise that he’s perfectly good at evoking the timelessness of romance and confusion without trussing it up in meaningless poetry, if the band scraped away the torrential bluster in favour of more subtlety, then their next record could be a portrait of artists. As it stands, they’re not there yet.

Laura Snapes