Pete And The Pirates’s ‘perfect pop’ revival may not have set the world on fire since preppy, upbeat debut album Little Death a few years back, but the Reading five-piece haven’t exactly been sitting on their hands: Come To The Bar and United – as well as alt-radio favourite Cold Black Kitty – have piqued interest in an album that, if it can meet the standards of its forerunning singles, may just be great.
Enter One Thousand Pictures, a vigorous, melodic and humorous-yet-tender long player that switches stance with the directness of The Undertones or Buzzcocks, exhibiting the band’s rock adroitness, gimmick aversion and underlying sense of fun.
Underlying, though, is certainly the word: it is immediately apparent that this is a sophomore album far less carefree and jaunty than its predecessor. Granted, it’s not quite Arctic Monkeys going all Led Zep, but Little Death’s humour has been downgraded to the extent that it might not even be humour at all; conversely, it sounds at times more like sugar-coated bitterness. Nevertheless, it is an ambiguity that propels the band forward.
Can’t Fish opens proceedings rather darkly, its plodding pace ushering Tom Sanders’ vocals into the limelight. Reigned in as they are, Pete And The Pirates’ sound takes on an unmistakable Interpol-like quality: ever-so-slightly fragile, but at the same time sinister, as if on the verge of something unspeakable.
It is not, however, entirely representative of One Thousand Pictures as a whole. Rather, one is directed towards follow-up Cold Black Kitty: straight rock, delivered with a straight face, but slightly skewed lyrically. It’s a lot like listening to The Presidents Of The United States Of America self-titled debut. In fact, it’s exactly like that (and not just because of the tenuous kitty connection).
That isn’t a criticism by any means. Little Gun, in fact, injects real pace into the affair; the listener’s ear gratified by the band’s directness as they give a wide berth to the “unique selling points” of too many of their contemporaries.
Established number Come To The Bar continues in the same vein, its off-kilter synth channelling Grandaddy, while Winter 1 cruises along on harmonic lines like it’s auditioning for a spot in the next Guitar Hero or Rock Band installment.
And then there’s United. An album can’t be perfect, but a track can, and United comes mighty close: beats crescendo fantastically into a cacophonous chorus of twisted romance – “I just think it’s funny how we are united, united, united on the carpet” – as Pete And The Pirates peak.
But concerns remain about originality, and if the band are really doing anything better than their contemporaries: the album’s coda lacks snap – as if 13 tracks was too big an ask – and while increased cynicism lends One Thousand Pictures extra weight, it is not a catch-all. Still, here be treasure… and a little sand.