Like flash floods and Jack White’s right hook, some things you just don’t see coming. Cloak and dagger style, they sneak in, and when you least expect it, jump out of the darkness and into the (spot)light.
Thing is, it’s been happening rather a lot recently in the notoriously delicate stratosphere of indie rock. It might be global warming, it might be 21st-century political unrest and, in the case of [a]Snow Patrol[/a] finally gatecrashing the members-only sanctuary of the Top Ten, it’s almost certainly an omen of impending apocalypse. But the recent chart success of [a]Keane[/a], [a]The Zutons[/a] and [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a], among others, has led to some severe industry eyebrow-raising. ‘Rock’, it would appear, is ‘Back’.
All of which leads us to Southampton’s [a]Delays[/a]. Signed by Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis on the strength of their similarity to ’60s harmony fetishists The Hollies, the quartet had already tasted the fruits of middling success with their first two singles when their third, ‘Long Time Coming’, suddenly found itself in the Top 20 back in January. On the surface, the song itself seemed fairly unremarkable; after all, skinny boys with floppy fringes and combat trousers have been mining [a]Teenage Fanclub[/a] albums looking for hits since the year dot. Yet repeat listens revealed something far more exciting; a happy marriage of the early-’80s indie we at NME once creamed ourselves over weekly and the swaggering, post-Strokes sassiness that we continue to cream ourselves over weekly. In a nutshell, [a]Cocteau Twins[/a] enthusiasts in [a]Cooper Temple Clause[/a] clothing.
It’s this double-edged sword that debut album ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ both lives and dies by. We are, after all, talking about a band who abandoned their more bilious influences long ago in favour of a streamlined pop sheen in an attempt to soothe indecisive A&R minds. And while they may not sound like they were created in a laboratory in Shoreditch, they sure as shit look like it. Yet by the same token, we are also talking about a band whose compromises resulted in current single ‘Nearer Than Heaven’, one of the finest pop songs we’ve heard so far this year.
Opening with the harmony-laden (in the Beach Boys sense, not in the cack-handed [a]The Thrills[/a] manner) rhythmic breeze of ‘Wanderlust’, it’s a glorious throwback to that dark corner of the ’80s where pop stars shunned wristbands and mullets in favour of woolly jumpers and hair by garden hedge.
Indeed, the pace doesn’t slow until the rather aptly named dirge of ‘No Ending’ five songs in – the sound of songwriter and frontman Greg Gilbert shunning his natural gift for brain-gnawing melody and resting on his laurels. Or, if you like, his Big Star best-of and his copy of [a]Jeff Buckley[/a]’s ‘Grace’.
The long shadow of [a]The La’s[/a] casts itself over
‘You Wear The Sun’ and former single ‘Hey Girl’, but to criticise a record for cribbing from a band
as in thrall to the ’60s as [a]The La’s[/a] were is churlish given the potential riches. Truth is, it’s as much a signifier of good taste as anything, and either way, both songs are exuberant enough and infectious enough to stand alone.
If there’s a clear problem with the album, it lies in the sugar-coated crystalline sheen that surrounds everything. The relentless falsetto vocals and the foul cheddary whiff of pedestrian acoustic balladry on ‘There’s Water Here’ and ‘Satellites Lost’ will frighten off those with a weak constitution, but life is full of guilty pleasures – it just depends how far you’re willing to indulge them.
[a]Delays[/a] want to be The Perfect Pop Group – an admirable aim that this album sadly falls short
of. Yet there’s enough promise in ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ to suggest that, a few albums down the line, they might not be too far off. If Greg Gilbert can avoid the tiresome acousto-rock clichés that mar a few too many of his songs on this record and instead concentrate on the enormo-chorus pop alchemy that has taken his band from Southampton to the verge of stardom, they’ll really be onto something. It is all a little too smooth around the edges, certainly, but there’s a bit of rough in this diamond yet.
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