It’s now over a decade since Hebridean one-man band Colin McIntyrefirst shared his no holds barred, joyously quirky epic pop with thewider UK population. Taking his moniker from a group of genealogicalenthusiasts on his home island (who have since, perhaps notunsurprisingly, re-branded themselves as the Mull Historical andArchaeological Society) the multi-instrumentalist made an immediateimpact with his 2001 debut album Loss, an effortlessly catchycollection of idiosyncratic, richly detailed songs that remains one ofthe most likeable records of its time.
Ten years and more on, and things haven’t quite panned out asMacIntyre and his admirers envisaged. Second album Us maybe took theeverything but the kitchen sink approach to arrangements a little toofar and suffered accordingly, while 2004’s This Is Hope sank withouttrace. Following this setback, the Society was disbanded as MacIntyreopted to record more conventional singer-songwriter material under hisown name, but the two resulting releases, 2008’s The Water and thefollowing year’s The Island, were greeted by widespread indifference.
Dusted down and with his spirits seemingly revived, MacIntyre hastaken the decision to go back to the tried and tested formula – andthe band name – that first brought him success. By and large, CityAwakenings vindicates his choice.
On a new label and produced by Dom Morley, who can boast householdnames including Mark Ronson and the late Amy Winehouseon his CV, the Society sound sleek and confident here, with much ofthe wide-eyed enthusiasm of their early work restored. While thesongs here admittedly aren’t quite as memorable as perennialfavourites from Lost, like Watching Xanadu and Paper Houses, they’revery much cut from the same cloth and perfectly pitched to find favourwith those fans of classic pop that flocked to Macintyre’s banner whenhe first emerged.
The album is dedicated to London, New York and Glasgow (apparentlythe cities Mull’s main man finds most inspiring) and aims to reflecton how people from remote communities integrate into metropolitanlife, a concept that gives its creator plenty of scope to indulge someof his more eccentric lyrical observations. But it’s MacIntyre’s earfor a tune that really stands out. His penchant for tweeness andoccasionally over-egged dynamics still hasn’t gone away, but if it’s asoaring chorus you’re after, he rarely fails to deliver.
Opener Must You Make Eyes At Me Now is a case in point. Builtaround an acoustic guitar jangle and MacIntyre’s yearning vocal, itbuilds irresistibly to a crescendo propelled by lashings of timpani,brass and who knows what else as the exiled islander struggles toadapt to his new city home. Yet by third track The Lights he seemsintoxicated by the allure of its energy and excitement, singingjoyously “we drove to the lights where people were living… I like thelights, I like the lights”, even referencing Starship’s WeBuilt This City as the soundtrack to his journey.
Like other Mull Historical Society records, City Awakenings cansometimes feel like one long, relentless sugar rush, but welcomerespite is provided by gentler, mellower songs likes Fold Out City andclosing number Thameslink (London’s Burning), the latter firstperformed by MacIntyre at his father’s funeral. The only real bum notehere is the charmless glam rock of Honey Pie in what is overall a mostenjoyable return to form from The Mull Historical Society. Whether itenables MacIntyre to finally fulfil the commercial potential he hintedat on Lost is another matter, but it’s splendid to have him back.