Riding as it does on a wave of popularity both steep and sudden, The Bravery's debut album has been pelted with so many journalism cliches of "hotly anticipated" and "eagerly awaited" that it now looks like it's wearing an impromptu jacket made of premature praise. But it's true, all the same - I, like anyone else who's been aware of the swell of adoration surrounding this charming New York indie fivepiece, have been waiting for this album since the second I heard them sing.
And here it is, and being me I have the terribly pretty silver digipak special edition, and it's all very beautiful and stylish, but what's the music actually like? Well, aren't you lucky, I've time to do a track-by-track review. If you'd just like a summary, please go to the bar now to get your drinks and come back in time for the last paragraph. :)
An Honest Mistake
Everyone's been raving about this for so many weeks now that I'm not sure there's anything more to say. An obvious choice for a single, much more so than Unconditional, which they actually released first, it writes sparkling new chapters in the book of desperately earnest indie love-gone-wrong songs. When I say 'sparkling', I mean they're probably written in glitter gel, with little diamante studs for full stops. Hurrah, say I.
Oh, and already we're at a point where I can check off influences like nobody's business. The beginning of No Brakes sounds like they spent the previous five hours listening to 'New Year's Day' by U2 on repeat. It morphs fairly quickly into fairly low-key jangly goodness, though, and if there's one song on the album that makes me think 'I don't believe this band isn't British', it's probably this. Without the lyric sheet I'd have barely any idea what Sam Endicott was going on about for much of the song, but I wouldn't care, I'd be too busy enjoying the almost harp-like quality of the guitar in the verses and the sweeping synth backing in the chorus. And at the end it all goes a bit Joy Division, which can't really be a bad thing.
This starts with a beautiful synthesised ostinato - think 'if Ultravox had invented church bells' - and the bass that kicks in shortly afterwards is the perfect counterpoint, which makes it rather a shame when the guitar comes in strangely discordant underneath. And then enter Sam Endicott, sort of, although really it's 'verses by Robert Smith, chorus by Molly Half Head'. It has its moments, but they're mostly in the first twenty seconds, though there's an amusingly Oasis-esque guitar solo in there somewhere as well. Really, it's a bit like the entirety of VH2's playlist mixed up and baked into a gingerbread man. With a hat. Who thinks he's really cool.
Now this is more than a little surreal. The only thing that stops this song from being goth is that it, well, isn't. But let's, as Lloyd Grossman might say, look at the evidence. A slow, somehow inherently mopeworthy beat, suitable for, say, kicking dead leaves down cemetary paths. A bizarrely Hammer-horror organ background. A prominent bassline. Gently throbbing synths à la mid-80s Depeche Mode. Petulant, yearning vocals. Oh, but I can't really pretend any more that this is goth, because by the chorus it's quite obvious that it's really early-90s electro indie. I'm sure it's just that that's when it was written, and therefore Mr Endicott was a lot younger when he came up with the strangely hilarious lyrics, viz. I'm stuck just like a pig/roasting in your eyes/I'll believe anything that you want/You better teach me how to live/'Cause you make me want to die.
Sorry, would write more, too busy laughing. Next!
P.S. The middle-8 is gorgeous, though.
Well, this is just good, really, isn't it? Plaintively engaging vocal harmonies start this short but excellent piece of melancholy alternative pop, a thoroughly haunting quiet-as-a-mouse's-ghost synthesiser hiding in the background while fairly heavily early Cure-influenced guitars threaten around the distant vocals. A beautiful piece of work, not so much that's original but a gorgeous collage nonetheless. I like.
So, you're strolling around Carnaby Street in early June and five lads dressed in faux-military jackets are coming the other way, strutting and posing and laughing and wishing they hadn't worn quite so much eyeliner because it's melting on their flawed but lovely faces. At least, you are if you're listening to this, fantastic sawing keyboards and occasional random widdly guitars inviting you to blow gracious kisses at your CD player, while the band members who aren't Sam Endicott provide just-this-side-of-unfortunate backing vocal accompaniment in the traditional "oi! You lookin' at me? Darling!" besuited indie stylee.
Yes, obviously I love this. So should you, it's extremely silly.
Public Service Announcement
Credit for a) a good title and b) a bassline-and-drum combination that opens the song and takes you completely by surprise, sounding as it does like it was thrown out of a Donna Summer song for being too cocky, but then in come the guitars and you suddenly know it's just going to be another slice of slightly whiny failed love song pouting. Mr Endicott, whose catchphrase possibly ought to be 'I've got a falsetto and I'm not afraid to use it', goes all over the place in this, but not even his random warbling can save it, nor, unfortunately, can a truly excellent keyboard line which is wasted on this song and should be rescued and rehomed. Also? "You put the art in retarded" is probably not the best lyric I've heard this year. Moving swiftly on...
Out Of Line
You immediately know you're on to something with this one. If you've been listening through the album, your first thought is probably 'Hey, this sounds as good as the opening of An Honest Mistake'. Stay with it, it is. The drums have that kind of 80s drum-machine feel; the accompanying keyboards positively shine with dirty red-light-district glitter; when the vocals come in it's to sing, with a kind of joyful schadenfreude, that, basically, for once it's him doing the ending of the relationships and It Feels Fucking Good. The chorus is a huge yet strangely winsome affair, big keyboards, pretty vocal harmonies, kind of like a stunning six-foot-eight drag queen twirling a strand of her wig around her fingers and grinning at you. Works for me. Towards the end the two halves of the chorus are sung over one another, which put a really quite absurd grin on my face. Happy now.
Some excellent twinkly hollow guitar work begins this, and then it comes on all jangly and lovely and there's that early Cure bassline going again, but by the time we've got to the chorus and Sam Endicott is sulking 'I just want, I just want love' you're feeling slightly as though you've heard it all before. Possibly, if they'd put this earlier in the album, it would be easier to give it the credit it deserves - it's a very well put together song - rather than thinking 'this seems awfully familiar' as you kind of can't help but do. I will say, though, that the saving grace of this song is its breathtaking middle-8, a barely controlled frenzy of guitar that could without question teach New Order a thing or two. I love it, and could listen to it on its own on repeat for at least the length of the actual song.
The Ring Song
I'm trying to find something good to say about this, and failing pretty miserably - it's an amazingly whiny song about how he's not married and probably never will be and so life sucks and everyone else is happy and bah. Even musically there's not much to say for it, it's an easygoing, head-nodding sort of summery indie song that's...well, I'd rather listen to Dodgy, you know? Although what with the 'ba ba ba ba' backing vocals towards the end, perhaps I am.
Rites Of Spring
Mmm. The driving, passionate, guitar riff that keeps a current of vaguely sinister anger running through much of this song more than makes up for the last disappointment, though it's a strangely disjointed song, some bits of it seeming to have very little to do with the rest of it - musically speaking, anyway. It's good, though, and as technically the last song on the album (Hot Pursuit is a bonus track) it's making for a perfectly acceptable finish until the growling, powerful synth comes in just at the end and turns it into something really special. Nice work.
Hot Pursuit (bonus track)
The synthesiser that opens this track is the musical equivalent of the lights that start swirling across the crowd, in the dark, just before the synthpop band you've always wanted to see come on stage. That said, I don't know where the laconic guitar that starts up shortly after that fits into this analogy, but I don't care, because immediately after that, there's the arrival of a grindingly 21st century electronic bassline - and then Sam Endicott starts singing and there are these weird bits of tiny bell-chimes and he's saying Hot pursuit, I'm coming for you and it all comes together into this wonderful...thing. That sounds like Menswe@r and Duran Duran and Visage got together with Goldfrapp and thought, 'You know, that DurAnorak has been a really loyal fan, let's give her some kind of reward'. It's wonderful and completely mad. All hail.
It's always something of a gamble to kick off your debut album with the only song of yours that anyone has ever heard, but The Bravery do just about manage to pull it off. There are weak moments, but then, of course there are weak moments - this album sounds like what it is, a brilliant indie band with a huge amount of front rapidly finding their feet in the face of staggering media interest. An Honest Mistake and Out Of Line are the real highlights, along with the bonus track Hot Pursuit, but all of the songs (with the exception of The Ring Song, which I can't help viewing as some kind of strange punishment for ever having listened to any music between 1994 and 1996) have something wonderful about them. And the thing that strikes me most about listening to this album is what fantastically good musicians The Bravery are; the influences are clear, ranging from U2 through The Cure to 1970s funk (really), but the musicianship with which they spin those influences into the songs on this album is honestly breathtaking.
It's not for everyone, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But I'm delighted, and I hope this is as much the beginning of a beautiful thing as it looks like it could be. Plus, they wear eyeliner. Long may it continue.