Review Summary: Impressive debutants Everything Everything's Man Alive waterfalls ideas and genres at a prolific rate.
Like a comic who chains complex pun after complex pun, leaving the brain scrambling to catch up, so goes Man Alive, the debut album from Everything Everything. It is an album unlike anything you've ever heard before, a true original, and at times, to borrow a lyric from Two For Nero, will leave you as "giddy as a baby in a centrifuge". What sets Everything Everything apart from the crowd is Jonathan Higgins' sugary falsetto: he delivers frequently baffling lines, "And I wanna know what happened to your boyfriend because he was looking at me like 'Whoah!'" at speed with constant octave-leaps. It can be quite bewildering.
Full disclosure: if the lyrics actually mean anything coherent it is beyond me. That isn't to say they are bad, far from it, in fact as little sense as they make Higgins has the power of an arresting turn of phrase, juxtaposing 1980s videogame nostalgia, "It's like Sega never died" with echoes of Nazi Germany, "You goosestep around the garden" in Two For Nero. He also on occasion plays with verbal jokes; decide for yourself whether the refrain in album highlight Suffraggette Suffraggette scans "Who's gonna sit on your fence", or "Who's gonna sit on your face".
The vocal hi-jinx does begin to grate by the start of Come Alive Diana. It's one falsetto-leap too far and feels like an attempt to inject some life into an otherwise stale song. Indeed, the last four songs are largely forgettable affairs, with the exception of NASA Is On Your Side, showing refreshing restrain in a slow-burning build-up over solemn keys, before peaking with an exultant chorus.
The focus of this review has been thus-far on the vocals, but there is some really excellent musicianship on display. Guitarist Alex Robertshow is reminiscent of Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood: it's unobtrusive, varied and deft, and also provides one of Man Alive's highpoints. From nowhere Suffraggette Suffragette is illuminated by a dirty great slab of driving distortion, an isolated moment of untempered rawk. It's a fabulous addition, but it's something of a double-edged sword: the other tracks are diminished ever so slightly. Their highly polished arty and intelligent exteriors, particularly Final Form and the closing duo of Tin (The Manhole) and Weights, have their lack of fire and warmth exaggerated.
That said, with such boundless invention it was always likely that Everything Everything would take a few mis-steps, but successes outweigh weaknesses in this superb first effort.
NB: Mods: This review can also be found on my blog, dontletmebeunderstood.blogspot