It’s probably best to deal with the elephant in the room before we get to the music. Yes, this album – the follow-up to 2007′s unremarkable Girls And Weather – was produced by the ubiquitous Mark Ronson, which, for many will either signify a pale-imitation of his retro-tinged work with Amy Winehouse or the strange compromise that was Kaiser Chiefs’ Off With Their Heads album.
In truth, Welcome To The Walk Alone, doesn’t really sound like the work of Mark Ronson, the producer simply accentuating the qualities of each song with a smattering of blaring horns (naturally), reverb-laden drum sounds and an unrelenting sense of drama that brings the band to life. This is no mean feat – could anyone pick them out of a line-up if their lives depended on it – and he’s helped immeasurably by Arcade Fire cohort Owen Pallett, who adds some understated but revelatory orchestral arrangements to a handful of tracks.
If we’ve yet to give credit to the band themselves then we apologise, but it’s probably something they’re going to need to get used to. Even the Kaiser Chiefs had to put up with a string of questions regarding their choice of producer, the difference here being that the Rumble Strips raise their game to match their starry collaborator. Tracks such as London, Dem Girls and Daniel are sparkling, wonderfully melodic pop songs that surround singer Chris Waller’s sometime strained vocals with rolling drums, crashing cymbals, almost vaudeville-esque piano fills and, most importantly, choruses that stick in the mind well after the album’s 30 minute running time has zipped by.
First single Not The Only Person deserves to be a big hit (they’ve yet to dent the UK Top 40). Based on Waller’s unnerving ability to attract trouble wherever he goes – he was on the receiving end of two separate assaults on one night out – it’s a humorous tale of a mugging that is disturbed when Waller’s wife sees the errant youths off. With a delightfully twisted logic, Waller invites the “poor, poor boys” back “tomorrow night” so they can “take anything that you want”. It’s a brilliant, uplifting song that makes you laugh and will sound amazing at a festival.
Back Bone is another highlight, ditching the brass in favour of lush orchestral arrangements. Compared to the Dexys Midnight Runners-lite compositions of their debut, it sounds like a rejuvenated band, aware that they can step out of their comfort zone and not fall flat on their face.
Welcome To The Walk Alone is a brilliantly crafted, hook-laden collection of songs that may be slightly too enthralled with ’60s guitar pop to really make an impact in an ’80s loving music scene, but deserves to be heard by a wider audience than their debut. Having Mark Ronson’s name attached may seem like an obvious way of getting people to notice them, but he seems to have helped them raise their game, which is surely what a producer is for, right?