References to Britpop and that period in the ’90s when it seemed that British bands ruled not only the UK charts, but also the world, provoke diverse and extreme reactions these days. As bands like Blur, Pulp and even Oasis left the period behind, it became more and more associated with the also-rans like Northern Uproar and Cast. As a result, over time the phrase ‘Britpop’ has become shorthand for a boorish and workmanlike mediocrity. Yet it’s easy to forget that many of the bands who didn’t reach great heights displayed enormous creativity and ambition. It was a time where swooning 10-minute epics and electronica-drenched anthems were commonplace.
Over the past two years or so, we have seen many of the acts from this era reform. Whatever their reasons for doing so, it has led to an outpouring of ’90s nostalgia and an upswing in evenings celebrating that time. Hey Sholay, a five-piece from Leeds and Sheffield, would slot in neatly at these nights based on their debut album, full of self-consciously anthemic guitar pop which fancies itself as more accomplished than your average band. That isn’t to be uncharitable – a self-described group of ‘musicians, filmmakers and artists’, the band certainly have talent and ambition. In their short time together they have also generated a strong sense of momentum, winning a competition to play the Exit Festival and being voted ‘Summer 2012’s Must See Band’ by BBC 6Music. They have also been championed by Steve Lamacq; perhaps unsurprisingly, given that you can imagine their music gracing his iconic (and now defunct) Radio 1 Evening Session.
The fact that their debut is being re-issued within two months of its original release, however, can’t help but suggest that the march forward has stalled. The album is undeniably confident and hits the ground running with the dynamic Wishbone (Wish Wish Wish). A propulsive guitar line bounces off polished synths before Liam Creamer’s distinctive, arresting voice swoops in tremulously. An explosive chorus is propelled by the band’s superlative rhythm section, which proves to be one of the album’s real strengths. It’s entertaining stuff. The problem is that its template is followed repeatedly over the course of the album, with varying degrees of success. Songs like My Blood and The Bears The Clocks The Bees sound tailor-made to send indie dance floors into rapturous frenzies, yet they never quite take off as they feel they should. Even when the latter soars with a galvanic repetition of “I know I can change but I don’t know how to change”, there’s a strong sense that we’ve been here many times before.
Nonetheless, nothing here is bad. There are stand-out moments such as the sweet harmonies on Burning but, however diverting, the album rarely stirs the emotions. This makes for a frustrating listen as you can hear much potential. Indeed, closer Golden Is the Colour of the Sun (Run Rabbit) might be an obvious attempt at epic (with its nine-minute running length), yet as one of the few songs which sounds unconcerned with potentially gracing television adverts it is one of the best things here.
If the original album doesn’t quite work, however, the re-issue points to a more interesting future. Added are five re-worked (or ‘re-dreamt’, as the band put it) tracks which push the electronic influences to the fore and they invariably far outshine the originals. Burning becomes unexpectedly moving while My Blood strips the song back to its rhythm and takes on a menacing, compelling quality reminiscent of latter-day Radiohead. Most surprisingly of all, the unremarkable Dreamboat becomes a textured, affecting triumph.
As a whole the album is a mixed bag, then, but in their ambitious ‘new’ tracks Hey Sholay add much-needed flavour to their music which makes them anything but a ’90s throwback. If they develop this direction further, they just might create something brilliant.