Review Summary: Once topical britpop.
I wonder which has a closer national anthem – predominant American pop-punk, or self-explanatory Britpop. The latter is certainly wide of its own hymn, anyway: The Queen, while standing somehow as the British view of Britain, hardly represents the Britpop view of Britain. For a select, it seems the truest forms are the shy countryside, or the lame, somehow reminiscent pub songs. Stereophonics once knew this, and once had a role in a small time Welsh town (or so they’d like you to think). In Word Gets Around
there’s a village community envisioned in the acoustic “Bill Davey’s Daughter”, and a pulsating bar sing-along for those same folk in the chord-heavy “Last of the Big Time Drinkers”.
The debut for the Welsh trio is pretty much never devoid of a vague little theme, and Kelly’s simple playwright-hobby abilities do unravel quite well for a standard rocker. The words are a happy accident for the band for just a debut: nothing in the career ever came close to the little car seat window storylines of “Traffic” – one of Stereophonic’s most emphatic anthems to date (and an acoustic number, in all!). Nothing ever aroused more of a rhetoric cliff-hanger than “Bill Davey’s Daughter”, but most importantly, the album’s biggest musical triumph – “Same Size Feet” – was word for word, never matched. The track, comprised essentially of one of Kelly’s plays and cramped into a four minute pop song (which either heavily insults or praises the lead man, or both), is as morbid a tale as the fan base will ever get. They found a body in the lake/maybe it wasn’t really his name/same colour same shoes, same size feet/It’s the not knowing that kills you
is the trio’s novel line; not coated in arena glaze, and luckily not about chugging another beer back.
It does chug back chords though; for a tune about a wife - insane by ignorance and murdering her husband - it’s musically glorious. The verses are sly and steady, with enough time for Kelly to riddle off basic one-liners and lead into sharp, turnabout guitar choruses matched again by lines – She can’t be/She can’t be/She can’t be alone
. After, of course, a bridge, the best moment of the album pours onto aftermath – upbeat, easy lyrics for/about drinkers. It’s probably easier to just assume that this is an easy route out for any Britpop band (Oasis wrote “Cigarettes & Alcohol” and Blur probably tried to write it in subtley, as they were that band), but Stereophonics, as with any band that went on to write more abstractly with the same, distinct sound, hit good middle ground. “Not Up To You” is that, a song unrepeated, clearly briefly formed and with a persona story (The shops been dead for years
), but not at the heart of the beat.
Grit isn’t something Stereophonics would gladly shake off – vocals of concrete especially – but it’s more present on their debut than any of their ‘creepy’, characterless new entries. Kelly’s voice isn’t shaped up in any way, and though not everything is a perfect anthem on Word Gets Around
, his dusty-trail voice carries a few at the same time as barely raising it above the norm. The structure, musically, isn’t a far shot from the band’s staple Language, Sex, Violence, Other
– in that is it’s living and feeding on grit – but the writing really is a far cry from what “Dakota” is all about. It’s openly about, er, things. Things bands like Feeder, Welsh counterparts, unfortunately never got around to being nostalgic about in the first place. Things that future bands never bothered with, in a lucky turn. Stereophonics openly talk about these things though; they probably aren’t the only band to have heard of black humour, traffic and alcohol, but they wanted to make these their own, and maybe they did.