Speaking as a man whose previous profession was lugging six-foot Christmas trees around a Paisley garden centre with only a ridiculous green outfit to shield me from the pissing rain for eight hours a day, it’s safe to say that this writer’s experience of the daily grind was a less than pleasant one. And, having spent the intervening five years following them around armed with a notepad and a Dictaphone, I can also confirm that being a rock star is a far preferable life to one spent changing ink cartridges in Xerox machines for the minimum wage and a pension you’ll never live long enough to enjoy. Not everyone can escape it, of course – somebody has to flip the burgers at the Golden Arches – but it’s only yourself you’re cheating if you don’t at least try. It’s what some of the greatest music ever written – not to mention some of Towers Of London’s most odious publicity stunts – are all about.
The Enemy – three working class lads from Coventry’s cultural wastelands who grew up idolising early Oasis and The Jam – have realised this scarily early. Grime, to them, is just the stuff they found under their fingernails after a hard day at the McJob. If they’d gone out in ‘Cov’ on a Friday night dressed as Klaxons, by Saturday morning they’d be eating mush through a straw in A&E. Their music is a product of their environment, and their environment told them to get the hell out before it was too late. ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ may not be trendy, fashionable or any of the other empty adjectives that matter so much just an hour and a half down the road in London, but it’s blisteringly frank, frequently inspiring, consistently brilliant and, most importantly of all, the only way out they know.
Kicking off with 18-year-old frontman/mastermind Tom Clarke’s almighty declaration of “Call the police!” atop ‘Aggro’’s ominous, foreboding guitar riff, from the start it’s clear that The Enemy have witnessed some heavy shit on Coventry’s blood-stained streets. But there’s no Kaisers-esque zaniness, no overly-quirky “I tell thee”s to dilute the darkness, just a wrought-iron determination to get the fuck out of Dodge. Then there’s ‘Technodanceaphobic’’s tale of daddys’ girls and mummys’ boys being led astray from wide-eyed naivety to “Banging on the backseat all night long”, set to the sound of Liam Watts’ jackhammer drumming, and guitars so engraged you can feel the spittle flying out of the speakers at you. It’s a downright nasty – but undeniably thrilling – two-and-a-half-minute ride.
Anyone who’s heard The Enemy’s first handful of singles will know that they aren’t afraid of such Weller-esque teeth-gnashing, but what might surprise you about ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ is its enormous Oasis-shaped heart. The title track drifts in on sombre garlands of brass before detailing the minutiae of the day-to-day life Clarke is trying so hard to
get out of. “Spending time in smoky rooms while haggard old women wearing cheap perfume say, ‘It never happens for people like us’” he laments over an escalating background of acoustic guitars and soaring string sections, before sweetly concluding, “Don’t let it drag you down”. It’s a colossal achievement, and we haven’t been at the cheeky juice when we say it’s this generation’s best stab yet at writing a new ‘That’s Entertainment’. Even more surprising still is the song that closes the album, ‘Happy Birthday Jane’.
An unabashedly Beatlesy piece of pop pomp drenched in violins, horns and “Ooooooohs”, it sounds, quite frankly, like the work of a completely different band from the grotty oiks who exploded into our consciousness with ‘40 Days And 40 Nights’ and its nasal, confrontational racket. Or the one which came up with ‘It’s Not OK’’s wild-eyed and unforgiving dissection of life and everything that’s wrong with it.
And that’s before we even mention ‘Away From Here’, the album’s defining track. As with all great singles, when it finally takes the plunge into the chorus you’re left with the feeling that you’ve somehow always known it. It’s that euphoric moment that will be the genesis of a thousand bands in the bedrooms of Britain, and that’s the greatest accolade a band like The Enemy can be given. As debut albums go, it’s unnerving that The Enemy are already this good and yet barely old enough to buy their own champagne when the ridiculously high chart placings inevitably come in. There’s a buzz around this band that can’t be bought with hype or any other corrupt currency you care to mention, and this album has delivered on it. Where they go from here is up to them; next time around, they’ll have left the mean streets of Cov, and with them, the things that made this album so startling and special. But that’s in the future; right now, The Enemy are the gloriously untrendy sound of old-fashioned British rock’n’roll. Be thankful that they left the day jobs.