If, at the start of the year, you had said that one of the most popular bands in Britain in September would be a New York five piece disco band, who owed more to Elton John and the Bee Gees than any other group, you would have been laughed out of town. After all, the idea that a band with songs about an adulterous hairdresser (Laura
), and coming out to your mother in a gay night club (Take Your Mama Out
), could reach huge levels of popularity in a country where bands such as Coldplay
and the Red Hot Chili Peppers
are the biggest acts just seems too implausible, right?
As I'm writing this, this album is currently number 15 in the UK album charts, having been released on February 2. It hasn't spent a week out of the top 20 albums since, a feat only equalled by one other band this year (Snow Patrol
). It is no exaggeration to say that this band has probably been the biggest success story of the year, and there's a simple reason for this. It's not the "gimmick" of the band, indeed, the one interview question that is guaranteed to infuriate the band is asking whether they make "gay music", instead the reason for this bands success, is that this an outstanding album full of skilfully crafted and often infuriatingly catchy songs.
A prime example of this is the joyfully happy first track on the album, Laura
. This has become the anthem of the summer in the UK, and is still receiving massive airplay, fully 3 months after it was released as the third single from the album. With it's beat out opening chords on the piano, before Jake Shears comes in with his trademark seductively strangled vocals, and nonsensical lyrics, "Won't you just tell Cincinnati, I'm gonna need your love....don't you give me your schamoe". This is pure feelgood pop, and a song that sounds perfect played at parties to really get people in the mood for dancing.
Similarly, second single Take Your Mama Out
, with it's tale of coming out to your mother in a gay club is the kind of song that you suddenly burst out laughing while listening to. It's also curiously autobiographical though, with only one member of the band, Patrick Seacor, aka Paddy Boom, being heterosexual. Frontman Jake Shears is very up front about his homosexuality, as are the rest of the band, and admits that he had a very difficult time coming out when he was 15. It was at this stage that one girl, Mary Hanlon, became Shear's best friend, and is she who is remembered in the piano ballad Mary
Put simply, this is the song that persuades people, if they aren't doing so already, that the band needs to be taken seriously. This could almost be Elton John at his imperious balladering best, with some beautiful lyrics, looking to the future ("I believe in days ahead"). This is a brilliantly hopeful song, which turns people's expectation of the band on their head. It's soon to be their next single, and has heralded yet another wave of new fans who weren't converted by the disco nature of their earlier singles.
features Ana Matronic on vocals, singing in a falsetto throughout, while the band creates an electronic backdrop to her vocals that belies the bizarre nature of them. She doesn't appear a huge amount on the album, with Shears taking lead vocals on most of the songs, but when she does, in songs such as this, she shows that she is very much a member of the band, rather than just a "second singer."
Another song that changes what you think their sound is is It Can't Come Quickly Enough
, which is effectively an anthem that reminds me very much of a combination of Savage Garden and a softer Britrock anthem. If you bought this album on the strength of 2 singles, as I did, you would be very surprised when you came to this track, as it's a rather more unsettling song than the others, with layered backing vocals adding a vague sense of unease in the background. Similar to this is Return To Oz
, which shows very much to me that Jake Shears can sing, and also write lyrics that have an impact on you. The band also shows their ability here, with them lurking under the vocals, and changing the mood seemingly at will. There are even two guitar solos here, which, while not quite Dave Gilmour, are genuinely good solos, and add another new dimension to what is a moody, serious song. This is an undoubted highlight of the album, and one that needs to be listened to by people who don't like the band based on what they've heard. The band builds it and builds it into a superb crescendo, making it into a seriously good piece of music.
Having said all that, this is not a faultless album by any means. The prime exhibit is their cover of the Pink Floyd classic, Comfortably Numb
. While I'm a diehard Floyd fan, I don't think my dislike for this track is based solely on the fact that is a very poor cover of what many people consider to be the band's best song, but also is due to the fact that I think that this is the worst real song on the album. In attempting to stamp their own sound on the track, I think they've tried too hard to be original, and this track is weaker as a result. Another low point for me are the last three tracks, starting with the spoken word message from Miss Matronic, which adds nothing to the album, and, in my opinion, should definitely have been left off, and the bonus tracks, which show a clear dip in standards.
This brings me onto my favourite track from the album, Music Is The Victim
. This is a return to the catchy disco pop of the earlier songs, and opens with an incredibly grooving guitar riff before Jake Shears comes in with the line, �I left my heart in San Francisco, �cause it�s a motherfuc
king disco." Clever? No. Great for dancing to? Absolutely. This is the catchiest new song I have heard all year, and although there are better works of music on the album, this is my favourite song off here.
So, in conclusion, this is a band who many people view as a one-trick pony, largely as a result of their choice of single releases. If you actually buy the album though, and listen to it a few times, you'll realise there is much more to this band than catchy music, good as they are at that, and they have several dimensions to them. This is the group's debut album, although the band members are all aged between 25 and 35, showing the fact that they have evidently had to work hard to get to this stage. As I've already said, there is a reason for their success, as this is so easily the type of band that could fail, and that is that they write good songs, and that they write them in a variety of styles. If you don't think this is your kind of thing, then I can only point out that people who like all styles of music have fallen for this band. I have friends who listen mainly to various types of metal who love these guys, and I know people who are punk fans that have them on their iPod next to the Sex Pistols. In short, this is an album well worth your time to check out.
Music Is The Victim
Return To Oz
It Can't Come Quickly Enough
Final Rating: 3.7/5