There was plenty of buzz a few years ago about London five-piece Fiction. Some well-received singles, support slots with the likes of Everything Everything and Warpaint, and then they were chosen to soundtrack a Ford advertisement. Big Things, as that particular song was entitled, would surely follow.
Yet it’s taken three years for Fiction’s debut album to see the light of day. On one hand, this bodes well as the quintet obviously haven’t been rushed into completing the record. Yet a delay of such length does raise some concerns: not least that the initial momentum gained in those early days has vanished, and the hard work starts all over again now.
The other problem that Fiction have is that this sounds just like an album that should have been released in 2010, when it probably would have been huge. All the ingredients are there: jerky melodies, some Afro-centric percussive rhythms and guitars more angular than a set-square – at first listen it sounds like some kind of indie supergroup made up of Field Music, Vampire Weekend and The Maccabees.
Yet, even though its in the curious position of sounding a bit dated even as it’s being released, much of The Big Other works really well. The standout tracks are undoubtedly the singles – Big Things sounds as naggingly catchy as it did when it was selling cars, and Careful has a slinky air of other worldly oddness about it. Museum, meanwhile, is built upon a wonderfully insistent guitar hook that soon buries its way into the brain.
There’s a definite ’80s influence at work throughout The Big Other. James Howard’s vocals have an unmistakeable air of Edwyn Collins about them, and the endearingly awkward rhythms conjure up names both obvious (Talking Heads) and surprising (this could be one of the first albums in a while to seemingly draw inspiration from the works of über-polite Liverpool duo China Crisis).
While all this is pleasant enough for a few tracks at a time, over the course of an entire album, the lack of variety becomes a bit tiresome. The Big Other suffers from a particularly uninspired mid-section which sags badly, The tail off in quality after Big Things is pretty noticeable, with Step Ahead sounding particularly soporific and Be Clear hovering on just the wrong side of annoying.
It’s only really with the album closer The Apple, which reminds us exactly how good Fiction can be – an ode to Alan Turing, the celebrated mathematician and scientist who was persecuted for his homosexuality and is thought to have committed suicide by eating the titular fruit laced with cyanide. It manages to be both celebratory and mournful, and gains extra marks for including a lyric of “the algorithm was nothing special”, which Howard manages to make sound particularly haunting.
It’s a decent enough introduction to Fiction, but like a lot of debuts, there’s rather too much filler here for it to count as an unqualified success. Ultimately, Fiction have all the ingredients to work, but they don’t click together as much as they should on The Big Other.