It really did take a while to get into this one.Having been hooked on these guys from hearing double A-side Go Back To Bed America / One Day My Son, slipping their debut album into the stereo was likebeing given the keys to a Ferrari with Monica Bellucci waiting in thepassenger seat, stroking the gear stick, staring back at you and poutingthose wholesome lips…
Well maybe not, but the excitement and cauldron ofexpectancy brewed warmly. I was bowled over almost immediately because intro A PoorMan’s Opera (oh the irony!) sounds like it must have been lost from the mixing desk ofUNKLE‘s Never Neverland for it to end up on this record – a record by the band who I thought were ready to steal Coldplay‘s infinite thunder.
But no, it’s no error. Singer James Chant isactually a DJ Shadow fan and wanted some of the �berscratch-meister’s trippy funked soundscapes on record. *Cringe*. I was biting my nailsin pre-emptive distaste. Surely this would not work on a guitar band’swork?
In all honesty that was a hasty prejudice. TheShadow-isms, if you will, swoosh about rarely. Moreover, Small Victories arein that mould that’s “kinda guitars, kinda effects, piano and strings.” Sowhat does this mean?
Holding On Hopefully feels like an experimental albumbecause of it’s sheer randomness. It goes from the iffy UNKLE intro into a broody pianoand effect-soaked piece (Come What May), which starts things off properly,before the title track’s sludge of post-indie – think Mansunwith hovering synth.
But lacerating these guys with that phrase “experimental” is far too easy and unfair – that’s what Blur are here for. Instead the music is forward thinking and well produced, as Kids’ Chorusreveals midway through the album, with its barebone drumming, lullaby melodyand Chant’s resonating hum.
Voiceover creeps back in along with some JohnnyGreenwood-style guitar squelching. It all sounds grandiose and yes, at times has an epic tint to it, but just seems to fall short.
Some of the strongest moments are the Jeff Buckleyones, with Chant morphing into the late singer on those beautiful highnotes. The first s�ance is on Thawed, with trickles of samples, dramaticstrings and those valley glazing vocals.
Battle Waltz, essentially the dance bolted on withsome rugged plucky guitar work, is that moment where everything falls intoplace, where Chant’s soul wisp reaches those high notes and the grandstrings and guitars piece snuggly together.
The Buckley sound returns to haunt on tender pianoballad Marzipan Fortune before the lighter burner, Go Back To Bed America, turnsthe album on its head with its fiery anthem.
A real treat lies dormantin the minutes after the album proper fades: the hidden track is indeed a soulmerchant’s busking gem, with Chant at his most honest and raw.
Small Victories don’t have the crossover appeal that will turnthem into the Madison Square Garden Coldplays of this world. But for thosewilling to bother and appreciate it, they’ve made a terrificdebut album.