Sheffield, 2005. Following the phenomenal success of Arctic Monkeys, the Steel City is awash with A&R representatives, ready to offer record deals to every band with a regional accent and a MySpace account. The future’s bright, the future’s northern.
Three years on, and the post-Arctic landscape is rather different. While Alex Turner and friends have gone from strength to strength, the story is different for many of their contemporaries. Milburn quietly split up, Harrisons‘ debut album was so long delayed that nobody actually noticed when it was eventually released, and Long Blondes worryingly lie in a state of flux following guitarist Dorian Cox’s serious illness.
And then there’s Little Man Tate. Once thought to the band most likely to replicate the Monkeys’ success, their career has rather stalled. Following the disappointing performance of debut album About What You Know they were unceremoniously dumped from V2 and this second album comes courtesy of their own label, Yellow Van (albeit through a distribution deal with Skint).
While there’s much to be admired in Little Man Tate’s bouncebackability (to use the current cliche), is that enough to produce a worthwhile second album? Sadly, the answer is no: Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy is the sound of a band, not so much standing still, but actually moving backwards.
Whereas About What You Know fizzled with energy and wit, there’s a sense of inertia and boredom here. While Arctic Monkeys evolved and crafted a more mature sounding follow-up, and the Long Blondes recruited Erol Alkan and embraced synth-pop, Little Man Tate appear to be content with a recreation of their debut album – but without the rather important factor of memorable songs.
Opening track Money Wheel sounds uncannily like The Wonder Stuff, so much so that you almost expect vocalist Jon Windle to bellow ‘hup-hup-hup’ halfway through. It’s actually one of the better tracks, helped by some memorable lines (“we’ll sit out in the dark with an acoustic guitar, we’ll play all the songs from Definitely Maybe”), and a poignant chorus of “to think you’re untouchable is not very sensible” – which is impossible to read as anything other than a comment on their recent troubles.
Sadly, it’s all downhill from here. Hey Little Sweetie makes is an absolutely horrible sub-Fratellis knees-up with some rather creepy lyrics about a girl coming home from University who’s dared to drink, do drugs and have casual sex (“you’ve been a naughty naughty naughty little girl”) while tracks such as London Skies London Eyes and Face On The Wall are just mediocre, dull sludge.
It’s not helped either by the fact that most tracks stick rigidly to the same tempo, with the exception of the ill-advised ballad with the terrible title of Joined By An iPod. By the time the album’s limped round to the final Shoulder To Sigh On you’ve got the urge to listen to rave, classical, hip-hop….anything other than mediocre indie guitar.
While they’ll undoubtedly remain a fun live act, the truth is that the world has moved on since those heady days of 2005. There’s no reason why Little Man Tate can’t resurrect their career (especially with the amount of safe, dull guitar music masquerading as ‘indie’ in the charts at the moment), but the sad fact is that this already feels like the work of a band on the verge of splitting up.