OK, anyone who has read anything about them, seen them live, glanced at a photo of them, walked past them in the street or heard more than a three-second snippet of their music, will know that The Rumble Strips really, really, reeeeeally sound like Dexys Midnight Runners. If you don’t know Dexys, they’re the band who did wedding reception staple ‘Come On Eileen’ and whose singer Kevin Rowland went on to perform in a tackle-revealing wedding dress at the 1999 Reading Festival. Yeah, sounds about as appealing as french kissing Pete Doherty after he’s had a toke on the ol’ crack pipe, but if you don’t own their street-urchin soul classic ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ go out and buy it tomorrow.
There are some who dismiss The Rumble Strips as a Dexys cover band. These are the same people who think you shouldn’t listen to The Libertines when there’s a perfectly good Jam greatest hits CD available. But the truth is, to follow Dexys with any success at all is as easy as beating Amy Winehouse in a sambuca-downing contest. There are few who could carry their brass-weighted soul into the 21st century without coming out looking like a prize bunch of turkeys. Step forward Strips singer Charles Waller. Blessed with a dagger-eyed intensity, a gift for melody, a collection of polo shirts to die for and a blue-eyed soul voice so richly raw it suggests he’s been gargling molten trumpets since birth.
It’s Waller’s voice – one that proved too powerful an entity for his former band, Vincent Vincent And The Villains – that stops The Rumble Strips from being mere Dexys copyists. Take ‘Alarm Clock’: a melted trumpet-fuelled rollock with a warble-pop chorus that blasts away your cobwebs with wind-tunnel force. ‘Girls And Boys In Love’ is the kind of sun-bolstered ditty that could be the only three enjoyable minutes of some Richard Curtis romcom (it’s actually being used in Simon Pegg flick Run, Fat Boy, Run) and ‘Oh Creole’ shows that Waller can do hungover brass soul too. Relative oldie ‘Motorcycle’, meanwhile, is pure Grease-style musical stupidity, seeing Waller envisaging his rickety old bike sprouting wings and morphing into a sky-soaring motorbike.It’s very Andrew Lloyd Webber: and that’s something we thought we’d never write in NME, at least not about something we think is actually pretty good.
This cheesy, into-the-sunset fantasy is just another indication of Waller’s total detachment from the current grot-rock set, just as he’s detached from the cretins who brand him a Dexy’s photocopier. Tell you what: in a year’s time, if The Rumble Strips haven’t proved them all wrong, I’ll climb on the Reading festival stage in a tackle-revealing wedding dress and play the national anthem through a trombone.