Spector – ‘Moth Boys’

The London indie quartet enter brooding territory on self-examining second

In contrast to doomed contemporaries like Tribes or Viva Brother, Spector were smart enough to recognise that for most major-label ‘indie’ acts, success is an ephemeral thing. You might get 18 months of foreign travel, free alcohol and favourable reviews of your first album, but after the rushed, under-performing follow-up, your cards are as good as marked. So, with the fatalist clink of a half-full champagne flute, they named their 2012 debut ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’ and set out to do just that, their earnest – if slightly quixotic – pastiche of the mid-noughties indie of their young adulthood finding enough of an audience to sustain them through a wider indifference to the genre.

Three years later, having filled their boots on the first one, Spector return (minus guitarist Christopher Burman, who left in July 2013) looking like many bands do on their second album: sombre, serious, conspicuously mature. Frontman Fred Macpherson has grown his hair, toned down his shtick and no longer resembles a changeling left in place of Sparks’ Ron Mael. The music itself, meanwhile, has become more brooding and lugubrious: in keeping with the old clichés Spector seem to live by, you could characterise ‘Moth Boys’ as their ‘difficult’ second album, the product of failed relationships, life on the road and more disposable income to spend on synthesizers.

Spector’s arch humour was always tinged with melancholy, but the sonorous indie-night elegy of ‘All The Sad Young Men’ takes it to new extremes. “It’s all meaningless now, as it was meaningless then“, sings Macpherson, skulking in the corner of the club like Morrissey on an office night out, though he’ll take solace in the fact that this song – their musical high-water mark to date – brings him one chorus closer to writing his own ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’. The singer’s glibness was an issue on Spector’s debut, and fed into the perception of them as callow opportunists, but on ‘Moth Boys’, Macpherson strikes a more self-examining tone, with ‘Stay High’ depicting the banalities of modern romance, where “you pick the film, but I get one veto“, and ‘Bad Boyfriend’ using a conversation with an ex-girlfriend as an opportunity to catalogue his faults. “I’m a bad artist” is one of the more on-the-nose criticisms, but there are certainly worse lyricists out there.

In that context, ‘Cocktail Party/Heads Interlude’, a slinky collaboration with Dev Hynes that draws from his Blood Orange work, might seem symbolic of more than just their friendship. Now a well respected artist who has written with Sky Ferreira and Florence Welch, Hynes, like Macpherson, was initially dismissed as someone for whom music was merely a means to the end of becoming a big fish in a small east London pond. And look how his doubters were proved wrong. Spector, however, just aren’t that adventurous: even when they do push the boat out on the eerie narco-haze of ‘Kyoto Garden’, they follow it with ‘West End’, the album’s most thuddingly conventional track, on which an old flame swaps west London for a wealthy new boyfriend and “those American kids and vegan smack heads“. Macpherson’s response? “Well, fuck him“. It sometimes seems as though he can’t quite exorcise his smirking inner Inbetweener, but finally doing so might well be what prolongs Spector’s ride even further.