Review Summary: ‘All or Nothing’ is a fantastic album, one that combines their fantastic pop-song writing ability with a heavier edge that they have hinted at in the past. If there was any justice in the world this album will make The Subways huge – they deserve it
The three years between The Subways’ debut ‘Young for Eternity’ and their new release, the aptly titled ‘All or Nothing’ must have been some of the most turbulent of their young lives. Amidst heavy touring they have endured potentially career-threatening surgery and the breakdown of the relationship between Frontman Billy Lunn and his now ex-fiancé and fellow band mate, bassist Charlotte Cooper. Though they are still young, they are undeniably mature as they have survived these problems intact. Not only that, but in spite of the problems that they have faced, or maybe because
of them they have returned to record an excellent album with a strong sense of optimism. While the title of the album is certainly fitting as The Subways look very much on the verge of big things, the time of release late-June is even more appropriate. That is because ‘All or Nothing’ may very well be the soundtrack to your summer.
New single ‘Alright’
is a great indicator of the ever-present positive nature on ‘All or Nothing’ with its summery overtones and confident song writing. Nicking a line from the movie Vanilla Sky – “Another day, another chance that it will be alright” – displays the band’s increased optimism, and boasting a huge sounding, single-word chorus only boosts the song’s merit. It is one of many choruses on the album that are simply begging to be sung/shouted along with and could propel them into the limelight. Right now, The Subways are most definitely primed for the big time. On ‘Young for Eternity’ they showed potential but when compared to their raucous live shows (raucous being a massive
understatement) it always seemed disappointingly pedestrian. But, with the help of experienced producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) and all three members noticeably improving on their own individual instruments they have transferred the raw energy from their live shows to record. In particular, the exuberant ‘Shake! Shake!’
has infinitely more energy than anything from their 2005 debut.
While, the band as a whole have made dramatic improvements all around, the most obvious progress has been made by bassist/vocalist Charlotte. Not only are her vocals featured more prominently but her bass lines are at times superb, and are much more audible as Vig has helped to achieve a fantastic tone from her. Case in point, album opener ‘Girls & Boys’
not only features Lunn and Cooper trading boy/girl vocals in the verse but also a superb bass line that is then repeated by the guitar. This riff draws comparisons to fellow Brits Muse’s ‘Micro Cuts’ - minus the pretentiousness, of course. It is The Subways’ heaviest song to date, yet none of their pop sensibilities have been lost. Very few of the songs are as aggressive and direct as ‘Girls & Boys’ but pretty much all of them have the same infectiousness which is by all means a good thing. The relatively subdued title track is one of these songs. It is very well written both musically, with its crescendos and deceptive anti-climaxes, and lyrically – “I’d like an option but I hate to choose”.
After three of the most chaotic songs they have ever committed to record – the vigorous ‘I Won’t Let You Down’
, the angry, bluesy ‘Turnaround’
and the bitter ‘Obsession’
– things are toned down slightly. However, this is probably a good thing as not only does it offer variation but also gives Billy’s vocal chords a break – after all they have taken quite a beating. For those of you not in the know, Lunn had to undergo surgery in order to remove speech-threatening nodes on his vocal chords shortly after the release of ‘Young for Eternity’. The fact that his voice sounds so good now, let alone when he screams, is nothing short of remarkable. The thoughtful use of metaphors – “You’re the brass keyhole I fit into” – on ‘Strawberry Blonde’
is superb and highlights the maturity of the song. The acoustic segments break up the riffing very nicely and the intelligent use of cellos is simply brilliant. Album closer ‘Lost Boy’
is an acoustic number with subtle use of strings, keyboards and shakers. The song demonstrates the quality of Lunn’s voice as well as his song writing ability brilliantly. While it lacks the sing-a-long factor that many of the songs have it is nonetheless a fantastically soothing end to the album.
Considering all that The Subways have gone through in the build up to this album (discovery of Josh’s autism, breakup of Billy and Charlotte, Billy getting surgery…) it is a miracle that this album came out at all. But, like the stuntman (Spanky Spangler – great name!) on the album cover, the band have gone through flames and come out the other side and lived to tell the tale. And what is more they have come out the other side smiling – and they should be smiling. ‘All or Nothing’ is a fantastic album, one that maintains and then builds upon the fantastic pop-song writing from their debut, but also has a much heavier edge that anyone who has bared witness to one of their incendiary live shows will no doubt be aware that the band possesses. If there was any justice in the world this album will make The Subways huge – and they bloody well deserve it!