In 2013, Strypes drummer Evan Walsh – then aged 16 – dismissed a question about the rock’n’roll lifestyle in an interview with The Guardian saying, “We don’t have backstage parties. I can’t speak for the others but I just go to bed.” Back then, the teenage Cavan quartet were still playing breathless, immaculate blues sets to crowds gobsmacked by their presence and style. Noel Gallagher – often seen at their gigs – was impressed, as were Roger Daltrey and Elton John, whose Rocket Music Management signed the band. But second album ‘Little Victories’ suggests they might be staying up a little later these days.
The clues are in the lyrics, which are mostly written by guitarist Josh McClorey. “I got nothing but a keen eye for you/And a need to sin” sings Ross Farrelly on ‘A Good Night’s Sleep And A Cab Fare Home’, a song that instantly stands out as slinkier than anything on 2013’s debut ‘Snapshot’. On ‘Queen Of The Half Crown’ he’s slurring, “She’s fucked up/She’s got me bouncing ’til sundown” over grinding guitars. The bluesy and unfortunately titled ‘Status Update’ has him referencing ”substantial abuses” and gleefully repeating “Doing things I never could/Shame, shame shame”. The 17-year-old singer is forever in large dark sunglasses onstage and it’s tempting to imagine him wearing them in the studio, too, shielding evidence of another hangover.
The band’s sound has also changed, fast-forwarding past reference points like Dr Feelgood and The Animals to noughties indie of varying quality. Some songs take cues from Arctic Monkeys (‘Eighty-Four’), others from The Fratellis (‘Best Man’). Farrelly sounds rampant throughout (largely at the expense of any lyrical subtlety) and the music follows suit: McClorey’s guitar is loud and fast, Pete O’Hanlon’s basslines are all muscle and Walsh’s drums rattle tirelessly. But such relentless energy means much of the record comes off as careless rather than carefree. The slapdash rhythms of ‘Cruel Brunette’ and the grating guitars and clunky lyrics of ‘Best Man’ (“Every night is my night out/ Cause it’s just so easy”) are the worst offenders. Restraint is rare, only the minimal blues of ‘She’s Gone’ (which could be a younger brother to The Black Keys’ ‘She’s Long Gone’) benefits from a softer touch, a sign that the band still value the R&B they grew up on.
The Strypes maturing isn’t surprising or disappointing, but the loss of the identity that made their ascent so startling is. That it seems to have been swallowed up by an unoriginal and dated indie sound is all the more galling.
- Director: Charlie Russell, Bradley Spence
- Record label: Virgin/EMI
- Release date: 21 Aug, 2015