Escaping Times, the debut album from doe-eyed young northern lad Rob McCulloch is pleasing and irritating in equal measure. Pleasing because it’s easy on the ears, soft rock with a bit of an indie edge and irritating because it’s… well, because it’s easy on the ears, soft rock with a bit of an indie edge.
In other words, it’s not really anything special but gives you the feeling it probably could be if it wasn’t stuck so firmly between 50-quid man and his slightly more bohemian younger brother.
It’s an accomplished album (perhaps too much so for a debut), entertaining but ultimately a bit too safe. On songs such as Disrepair, towards the end, he really shows that he can up the tempo, then turns from that track’s garage punk energy to near Nick Drake melodiousness with the tail-ender Burnden, but too much of it is chart-massaging mediocrity for you to really be able to get behind him.
Debut single Something Abuse was robbed of being a hit last year by falling on the wrong side of the change in download laws and while it did deserve some recognition (it was a good song) McCulloch isn’t really here to save music. His spiky guitars scream indie, his northern earnestness and boy-next-door-your-mum-would-like qualities scream ‘one on the major labels for the next release’. This means he’s probably destined to be huge and that this album, destined to become his lost indie classic, probably does deserve your full attention.
Besides which, his lyrics are quite clever. “They don’t profess to be Paris or Helen though the Barbican is their street” could be the most middle-class rock’n'roll line yet this year, except that he’s trumped himself by calling a song Doing One’s Bit right on this very album which, after studying the lyrics, seems to be blatantly about class war but it’s not clear which side he’s on. Still, “Don’t wrap your chips in our song for your praise” is still a great lyric.
There’s a definite whiff of professional northerner about Escaping Times. A sense that if you know Bolton like the back of your hand all of this might make more sense but that if you don’t (and let’s face it, unless you live there why would you ever have visited anything but the away end of the Reebok Stadium?) you’re missing something and Rob thinks he’s being clever for doing that.
He goes quite shamelessly Arctic Monkeys on Six of One, with punchy guitars as he cranks up the regional accent for lines like “I bet you’re feeling proper mean as you hide behind your fruit machine”. While there’s no really good reason for this, he’s forgiven all transgressions for also including the line “Bollocks you look like a wotsit”.
In fact, the entire album is like that. Threatening to be 50-quid man fodder one minute and then saving itself the next, sticking two fingers up at you from The Verve section of HMV with a Best of The Smiths compilation taunting you from its shopping basket. Is it listenable? Yes. Is it clever? In places, yes. Is it middle of the road and nothing special? No, but at times it seems as if it wants to convince you it is.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s not you it’s trying to fool but Mr A&R from big bucks major label so that he can sneak ‘Bollocks you look like a wotsit’ onto Radio 2 when no-one’s listening too closely. If he is, the man’s a genius.