Review Summary: Britpop also-rans rebound from disaster with a great final effort.
Shed Seven were a Britpop band, often seen as an imitator of The Smiths. Despite this tag, the band were very popular for a while in the U.K, scoring a swathe of hit singles and one huge quarter-of-a-million selling album via their 1996 sopomore effort 'A Maximum High'. Unfortunately, it's 1998 follow up 'Let It Ride' was a disapointment both critically and commercially. The fallout of that faliure was an enforced release of a 'greatest hits' album, a messy split from their disgruntled guitarist Paul Banks and a sudden pink slip from their label Polydor.
Within their situation and the general shifting of the musical climate in the late nineties / early thousands, it's surprising that Shed Seven managed to make it back to another label at all. But the hardcore cult fans that the band had garnered at their peak buoyed the Sheds until they were signed to the indie label Artful Records. So too was their guitarist problem sorted and filled by Joe Johnson, who was originally a founding member of Shed Seven but who left the band in '93, only a short while before they were snapped up by the bigwigs at Polydor.
Much like a lot of albums that come after being dropped by a major label, the rebounding 'Truth Be Told' is a sad, desolate record full of heartbreak and endings. And like a lot of those type of albums, it's actually pretty good.
The musical shift on this LP leans more toward The Stone Roses than the previous (and shameless) pilferings of The Smiths. The album is bathed in cascading John Squire-esque psychedelic guitar riffs, most notable on the albums excellent twin peaks of 'Eyes Before' and 'Thinking Again'. It also features a lot more piano and keyboards than the band's previous works, with both the singles 'Cry For Help' and 'Step Inside Your Love' being piano led ballads that wouldn't seem out of place on a Coldplay record (although the latter does finally erupt into a fountain of guitars).
Quality wise, there's a lot to enjoy here. Apart from the aformentioned brilliance of 'Eyes Before' and 'Thinking Again' there a lot of other highlights. Lead single 'Cry For Help' continues the band's staple tradition of putting out fantastic ballads (think 'on Stanby' or 'Chasing Rainbows'), with it's lyric being both self pitying and cathartic ("And it really hurts when I'm thinking about you / But my bet is you feel the same /And it just gets worse / All these promises were cruel") in the very best way. 'Laughter Lines', meanwhile, sees the peak of the record's misery with the track soaked in Radiohead 'No Surprises' style guitar echo to moving effect.
Even most of the minor tracks are interesting. 'Love Equals' has a strident set of power chords that rip themselves out of the speakers about halfway through, making what at first sounds like a filler suddenly seem fairly magnificent. 'Feathers', on the other hand, is a delightful small faces style pop song with decent lyrics ("I must have seen your good side / Because I'm feeling kind of tounge tied") and a set of dovetailing riffs that must have made the former guitarist Paul Banks green with envy.
But not everything comes off so well. Opener 'If The Music Don't Move Yer' tries for the same kind of grandstanding party pop as the band's prior classic 'She Left Me On Friday', but merely ends up feeling contrived and forced. The piano and violin effort 'To The Wind' is just annoying, with vocalist Rick Witter's high northern tones seeming at odds with the elegant chamber pop backing, whilst the closing single cut 'Step Inside Your Love' is mostly good but drags on for a bit too long, eventually overstaying it's welcome with an elongated and repetitive refrain.
In the end, 'Truth Be Told' is a very good effort from Shed Seven. It feels spacious and clean with a cohesive atmosphere. It's held back from a higher rating by a few dull moments and the overwhelming feeling that it's a very, very minor album in pop's lengthy history, and perhaps even something of a guilty pleasure.