It’s hard work reviewing a Stereophonics album. For a start, it involves having to sit all the way through a Stereophonics album. Then you’re faced with the onerous ordeal of doling out the obligatory critical drubbing, all the while having to avoid sounding like Just Another Music Hack With A Grudge. That is the most difficult part. Kelly Jones has made it eminently apparent for time immemorial that he has no respect for the music press. The irony is that anyone who can satisfactorily cremate a Stereophonics record without coming across as a cantankerous Mister Writer is deserving of anyone’s respect.
Of course, it would make it easier if the Stereophonics made a decent album, decent albums being easier to buoy up than a stinker is to skewer. But then how would Jones feel about giving us hacks an easy ride? Will he feel a twinge of horror when he sees the unfamiliarly high mark out of 10. Will he hate us a little less, or is it too late for reconciliation?
Because – whisper this – ‘Language. Sex. Violence. Other?’ is an excellent modern rock record. Dense, intelligent, user-unfriendly and challenging, its sparse artwork and one-word titles give it the feel of an early Factory release. There’s no gentle easing-in, either. ‘Superman’ is jarring and bilious. An opening line of, “You don’t know what it’s been like/Meeting someone like you” signposts from the off that cuddly Rod Stewart covers will not be with us this evening. Ugly guitar slashes and agonised falsetto take their place, and they sound fantastic.
‘Doorman’ is a distorted half-echo of the ’Phonics of old, with Jones laying into heavy-handed door staff. But where once they would berate their nemeses with snot-nosed whining, here the band make an unholy, trashy racket and invite the titular security staff to “Suck my banana/With cream”. Try listening without feeling the need to kick the living fuck out of someone.
‘Brother’, like the single ‘Dakota’, is pretty ineffectual U2-style stadium-alt, too concerned with making an impressive noise and not concerned enough with a tune. ‘Rewind’ and ‘Lolita’ are by-numbers, hands-in-the-air, triumphalism and things unravel completely on ‘Pedalpusher’, a self-conscious attempt at sleaze that sounds like it was entirely assembled by a team of computers programmed with Auto-Perv-Rock 2.0. But ‘Devil’ is fantastic; verses dripping with leering suggestion and its chorus an ejaculation of sheer erotomaniacal frenzy, it makes Jones sound like a right dirty bastard, but in the perverted sense rather than the lugging-dusty-valve-amps-around-all-day sense we’re used to. ‘Deadhead’ is edgy and evil, like Oasis when they took just the right amount of coke, with another killer chorus. And ‘Girl’ is three seconds shy of two minutes and preens like an MC5-addicted peacock for every last one of them. It’s a Kelly Jones composition that needs to be twice as long. Nope, we can’t believe we just used that phrase either.
Maybe Kelly’s been fooling us all this time with all that workmanlike sturdiness, maybe it was all Stuart Cable’s fault, maybe 2005 will be a time of miracles, of aviatory pigs. But ‘Language…’ finds the Stereophonics sexy, angry, hungry, focused and (generally) intelligent. And, wonder of all wonders, it finds them really pretty fucking good.