Alfie - Crying At Teatime
Following Alfie through their career feels a little like watching someone grow up. Indeed, in our recent interview, front-man Lee Gorton described the band's journey from their folky acoustic beginnings to their current incarnation as 'growing up in public'.
EP collection and first album If You Happy With You Need Do Nothing showed the happy naivety of a band learning their trade, demonstrating childlike charm. If the music was a little shy and rough around the edges, there was an element of forgiveness and indulgence in the reaction to it, not shown to many new bands nowadays. Contract-fulfilling A Word In Your Ear showed the band growing up and starting to gain more confidence. Retaining the laidback vibe of the debut, the songs started to exhibit more complexity, with songs like the wonky time-signatured Rain, Heaven, Hail and the bottle-blowing Me and Mine the pick of the bunch.
Major-label debut Do You Imagine Things? saw the band flowering in less-constrained circumstances, revelling in a brasher, more in-your-face personality. Highly experimental, here was the band in its moody teenage years: adopting different guises, sometimes trying to mimic heroes, experimenting like crazy, sometimes doing things just because they could (fugue-ELO fusion Chop Chop being a prime example) and a youthful expectation that the world would listen.
Of course, the album didn't do as well as hoped, despite being an immensely enjoyable one. In our accelerated times, the public crave familiarity and the ability to summarise in sound-bites. The 'schizophrenic' Alfie gave no such simple answers.
So now we have Crying At Teatime. This is the sound of a band who have grown up and become comfortable in themselves, and no longer feel the need to prove anything about themselves other than the fact they can write real classic pop songs. The first track sets the tone. Whereas Alfie's previous album openers have gently held the hand to lead you onto a meandering journey, Your Own Religion grabs your arm and drags you into a pool, immersing you in the glorious technicolour music.
Initial favourites from this album will be the poppy numbers: Your Own Religion, All Too Heavy Now and the exhilaratingly-catchy title-track, Crying At Teatime. Gorton's said on more than one occasion of that song, "If this isn't a hit single, we are fucked." Quite frankly, if a song of that quality isn't a hit single, we're all fucked.
After you get over the excitement of the up-tempo numbers, the quality of the less in-your-face songs shines through. Look At You Now and 'Til The End are sandwiched in-between the previously-mentioned pop songs. Demonstrating more clearly Alfie's folk lineage and influence, they provide a meaty contrast to the lighter songs, especially the lush 'Til The End. After an opening salvo like that, the second half of the album comes across as more mellow, Applecart and Colours being the closest to 'old Alfie'. As if aware of a need to prevent the album fading into the background, the extraordinary fairground ride of Wizzo comes along, with its freefall melody of a verse followed by a stern chorus.
Final tracks Where Did Our Loving Go? and Kitsune epitomise this album well, providing enough to keep the musos happy (an unexpected extra beat in the former track, shades of Debussy in the latter) yet possessing a directness of melody and ambition in lyrics and arrangement that appeals across the board. Both tracks are epic ballads which linger in the memory and demand you press the 'repeat' button.
This album, in common with all great albums, does not let you settle on one single favourite. You go from loving the first-half pop numbers to adoring the second-half epics. Then a new day comes along, and with it a new mood, and all of a sudden you have a new favourite.
Inevitably, this album will draw comparison with The Magic Numbers, with its folk influence and pop sensibilities combining with lush harmonies. Don't be fooled: Alfie's greater experience shows. If you thought The Magic Numbers could do harmony, you ain't heard nothing yet. Crying At Teatime is a very different affair, being richer in texture (the trademark 'cello adding a real depth of sound).
To steal a line, with great power comes great responsibility, and Alfie have learnt that their myriad musical powers work best when controlled and applied with discretion. The song structures are more conventional, the lyrics are more direct and personal, and the sound here is more accessible; but it is no less clever and interesting than the best of the Alfie's previous output. Judge for yourself at the Alfie website, which is streaming the tracks for your aural pleasure.
Londonist album of the week, and possibly album of the year so far for Londonist Pop Kid.
The Rakes - Capture / Release
And so we have The Rakes, the latest in the growing line of social conscience jagged Brit guitar bands. It's getting to the point where it's hard to work out who's from which class and singing about which disaffected, disenfranchised group of yooves. Perhaps we could look at it this way. The Others, the Libertines and Babyshambles are basically unemployed, a scattered mix of council block urchins with dreams of being poets. Razorlight are all YTS trainees working in a run down studio wanting to be Queen. Hard-Fi are suburban mall rats with Saturday jobs in Woolworths or Halfords playing loads of The Jam. Art students Bloc Party are studiously downloading the complete repertoire of The Gang Of Four (legally). And The Rakes. Well The Rakes are working in banks and management consultants, well down the rungs getting pissed every non-working hour to Never Mind The Bollocks.
If you want to know where this record's at, it's all in the excellent closing track and current single: Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep), straight out of work, straight down the pub, and try to avoid getting in a fight on the way home:
I've got the same shirt on, two days in a row...
...I still smell like the smoking bit in a Wetherspoons pub.
It's The Office meets Teachers without the comedy pathos of David Brent or the occasional surreal donkey in the corridor. It's a life of rants (The Guilt) and hard knocks (Violent), only upset by the eerily prophetic inclusion of Terror! where your life of mindless, necessary servitude is disrupted by unspeakable violence.
And my job in the city won't matter no more
When the network is down and my flesh is all torn.
But it's not just clever words and stories, it really is pretty damn good. Happily pilfering from a long and worthy heritage of London based literate art-punks, from The Clash to Ian Dury; and merrily lashing in a danceable dose of pogoing popsters from the Sex Pistols to Madness, this really is a product of the city. Musically it bounces between the more direct punk thrashings of The Others and that angular post punk guitar thing that Bloc Party epitomise so well these days. That's not to say you don't get the odd dose of 80s synth gloom (Binary Love, but for the most part lots of jerky movements followed by frantic bouts of jumping up and down. Possibly not the most innovative album you'll hear all year but tied together with some hideously catchy riffs it's a worthy purchase, or at least a listen here, here, and, well there. (MM)
Supergrass - Road To Rouen
Supergrass are a band who had no struggle for immediate commercial success and have, with each successive album, tried to rid themselves of the cheeky chappy image born of hits like Alright. The latest album has been trailed heavily as 'maturer' and, most horrifically, the single St. Petersburg sounded like Oasis and therefore came across as mediocre dad rock. The announcement of the album title, replete with a terrible pun with which Noel Gallagher would be self-satisfied, did not do wonders for Londonist's anticipation.
However, Road To Rouen, merely follows a natural path that Supergrass have been following for a fair bit now. To declare them as suddenly 'mature' is to do their previous albums a disservice. There is no great change in direction, merely an obvious lack of chirpy obvious hit single sing-alongs that might have been lobbed into their previous releases in order to keep the record company happy. Far from being staid MOR Oasis-lite fare, there's enough subtlety in the songs to keep you entertained, in the likes of Roxy. Title track Road To Rouen itself is a pleasing hybrid of rock riff and pop chorus, although it strays into improv mode best left to the gig encores. Instrumental interlude Coffee In The Pot shows that Supergrass haven't entirely lost their sense of fun. Fin is a beautiful ending, a reminder that the more sentimental tracks on previous Supergrass albums have often been the most enduring.
This is a good album, albeit not ground-breaking and not as much a break from previous albums as has been heralded. It does sag in places but there's enough here to keep Supergrass fans happy. Whether it will bring the band any new fans is an altogether more debatable affair.
You can read a track-by-track guide to the album and listen to it on XFM.