Straight outta deepest Aberystwyth come the latest of Fierce Panda’s Indie hopefuls. Like much of the rest, The Hot Puppies have enough songwriting nous to rise above that damning faint praise to make it in the big bad world of major label advances. But is that enough?
Led by the girl-group-meets-Harriet-Wheeler vocals of Becky Newman, The Hot Puppies tread a line between Shangri-La innocence and alt-pop classicism. Also, Under The Crooked Moon gives the band the opportunity to wrap up much of their output of the last two years into one neat little collection.
Main songwriter Luke Taylor appears determined to stake a claim on the open vacancy of bedsit poet laureate. Bonnie And Me speaks of ‘love’s first soldiers’, but love itself gets little in the way of props throughout.
Ode to silent film-star Theda Bara might demand ‘have you ever had a broken heart?’, but it inevitably responds with ‘well follow me’. Elsewhere love is ‘a drowsing nymph’, while Love In Trial, Not Theory and Love Or Trial pretty much speak for themselves.
But Under The Crooked Moon might well shine blue on Taylor’s haunted lovers, but The Hot Puppies have had the foresight to accompany these laments with enough swoonage (esp. The Bottled Ship Song) to bypass the cheer-up-it-might-never-happen factor.
If only someone like producer Dave Fridmann had got anywhere near them, Under The Crooked Moon could easily have had the symphonic weight of The Delgados‘ Hate album. As players, much of the band seem all-too-often content enough to just shift the arrangements along with as much imagination as Noel Gallagher with a George Martin colour-by-numbers book.
The back-to-basics approach works well on bittersweet fancies such as Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall and the fine Heartbreak Soup (“served by me / ate by you”), but an angst-ridden tale of woe such as How Come You Don’t Love Me No More cries out for that much-derided factor called ambition.
Ben Faircloth puts the drum into humdrum, while there is the occasional miscalculation like Luke Taylor’s rather flatulent solo that unexpectedly parps up at the arse-end of Baptist Boy. Thankfully, Taylor generally reins in his right to rock, but his axemanship rarely rises above the sub-Johnny Marr bouncy jangle that has been Indie-pop’s burden since Postcard days.
Some welcome theremin and wurlitzer-style organ spruce-up the likes of Green Eyeliner and Love Or Trial, and despite the reservations above, Under The Crooked Moon has some sure-shot hits-of-a-kind.
Green Eyeliner and Terry have the dreamy hooks to guarantee playability for that crucial XFM / Radio 2 crossover audience, while Becky Newman pushes the Debbie Harry button on current single (are they still called that?) The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful.
A lot of people will think that Fierce Panda have cracked it again with The Hot Puppies. Containing material stretching back to 2003, Under The Crooked Moon can hardly be termed a debut, but it already leaves a conflicting sense of what could have been, and what may yet be