Dive Dive, the Oxford quintet who in one form or another have spent the past 15 years on the verge of breaking into the mainstream, release their third album with a deliberately ironic title, Potential. Who knows, this may help their chances, as their previous choices – The Revenge Of The Mechanical Dog and Tilting At Windmills, as well as their briefly-held name Fighting Gandhis – didn’t seem designed for the Top 40. Not many bands bubble under for this long and stay together, and it’s had an interesting effect on their songwriting; their speciality has always been nervy punk-pop, energetic and angst-ridden, but perhaps inevitably it’s now a bit more reflective, kicking-against-the-world less in favour of realising-it’s-all-a-bit-more-complicated.
Potential proves to be a tight, polished record, readily demonstrating their flair for riffs, considered lyrics and the kind of tight playing you’d expect from a band whose backline, as the backing band for labelmate Frank Turner, is perpetually on tour. There are energetic stand-out tracks which are as strong and memorable as anything the band has done – opener Mr 10% builds to an unexepectedly complex mesh of backing vocals and Liar revolves around an eminently chantable, almost typically Dive Dive chorus, while their snappy, twitchy feel continues in The Alarum and The Point Is – but the mood of the record as a whole is more subdued than their previous albums, both in tempo and lyrics.
It sounds like grown-up teen punk, still railing against the uncomfortable in an embracingly non-specific way, but with more weariness. Ape Like Me dreams from the viewpoint of the outsider in Planet Of The Apes only to wonder metaphorically whether it was a dream at all. The You In Me drips with self-doubt, a theme continued throughout with lines like “I think I’m done for” and “I’ve grown apart from the man I was meant to be” in other songs. The Point Is sounds suspiciously like a reflection on the mid-level jobbing indie scene: “Nothing ever changes round here, and what do you care? I used to hang around here”. They would know, after all.
Wherewithal makes an aggressive claim for attention with its free tempo which follows the weary resignation of the vocal, apparently trying to put a full-stop on a relationship in which neither side is listening anymore. Here, quite possibly, is a band making the transition from angry young men to grumpy old men without bothering to stop for a mid-life crisis in between.
It’s a curious mix of determination tinged with despair that seems to come from working at a teenage dream beyond the point where their talent and experience should have taken them up a level. Their dream has altered but their target doesn’t seem to have; the wind has changed and they’ve matured into as tight and experienced a rock band as you’d hope to find, but unrewarded (or untainted) with the trappings of success and certainly not short of creative inspiration, because somehow they’ve got to this point and still have energy, new tunes and something to say. Potential indeed.