“Just hold your head up and we’ll be OK” The Enemy affirm on This Is Real, almost as if they need to assure themselves that there’s still life in the group yet, that the world out there still cares about them. It’s been a while – five years – since their debut effort We’ll Live And Die In These Towns hit the top spot in the UK album charts and went platinum. And the musical climate has moved on since then. Bands like The Enemy, that once dominated the Radio 1 playlist, have found themselves pushed out into the cold, putting out albums only to find the people who once bought them with such fanaticism have moved on too.
And the truth is, This Is Real is one of only criminally few moments when everything really comes together on the group’s third LP. The record positively drowns in feedback and rough-as-sandpaper guitars – it’s buried beneath it, quite literally crushed under its weight. It makes for a bracing, often uncomfortable listen – all the art and craft of their early releases pasted over by this heavy-handed attempt at artificial grittiness.
There’s the sense that, even now – three albums in – that The Enemy still so desperately want to be the second coming of punk that they’ve lost themselves in the effort, exhausting themselves like rabid dogs barking after their own tails. Yes, these are lads that care deeply about the music they grew up with, but sticking so single-mindedly to that approach leaves Streets In The Sky as a kind of torrid Jam-cum-Sex Pixtols tribute act; a band slaving over their guitars in an effort to keep from sinking. There’s quite clearly still a fire burning in the bellies of the group, but its energy is grossly misdirected, channelled into a fawning, grasping search for a Holy Grail of British lad-rock that has long since died.
Like A Dancer is one of the more mature moments here – still marred by the ghastly, clanging production, but redeemed by a muscular chorus that recalls the brimming, inherently bullish enthusiasm that made their debut such a joy. Make A Man falls prey to the same symptoms, sounding for all the world like it was beat out with hammers in a garage before being committed to the master tapes. Those blistering guitar riffs and roaring, snarling vocals are all very well and good, but across Streets In The Sky, they’re applied with the broadest, most inelegant of brushes. There’s none of the considered poise that characterised 2009’s excellent No Time For Tears, a song that very much felt like it had been born of the band going into the studio with a specific concept and vision. Streets In The Sky is an album without vision, or if there is one, it has been shot through and tattered by a hasty drive to try and remain relevant.
In last year’s Skying, The Horrors demonstrated it was possible to create a masterpiece of an album in the vision of your idols, crafting into being a musical footprint that wasn’t just heavily indebted to the past, but could stand alongside it with head held high. But in The Enemy’s case, third time round is distinctly unlucky, all that swagger and passion that blazed away so fiercely five years ago finally collapsing away, leaving behind a ghostly shadow of what the band used to deliver.