The Lights seem intent on giving The Go! Team a run for their money in terms of producing an album which completely varies in styles from track to track. Grand Union, the debut release by the four-piece, is difficult to categorise, the only constant being the sprinkling of electronica that runs throughout. If you were to attempt to describe their sound, Zero 7 meets Interpol while taking a trip back in time to see Gary Numan on the way might be the best you could do.
The band is the brainchild of Matthew Lester, who wrote, recorded and produced all the material from his West London bedroom. Hiding behind a plethora of instruments on the record, however, vocal duties are left to Ryan Caine and Imogen Andrews, a male-female combination that works very well.
One striking thing you notice on this album is how Caine sounds like a different person on every track. On opening number, Good As It Gets, he does his best Michael Cretu impression. The chilled-out song, recently released as a single and not too dissimilar to Cretu’s Enigma, is somewhat repetitive, though does grow on you the more you hear it.
The Air rip-off synths that open The Executioner give no indication of the indie direction of the rest of the second track, and the tempo and volume continues to grow on Hole In The Head. The distorted vocals add to the sinister edge on this track; a gritty rock number and one of the best on the album, complete with Axl Rose-esque “Yeeeeah!” at the end.
Free Ride, on which Caine turns his impersonation skills to Pete Burns, is another very well crafted, heavier number with a killer chorus. Caine’s vocals juxtapose brilliantly with Andrews’ sugar-coated ones, and there is a blistering and down right dirty sax solo at the end as the full potential of Lester’s writing abilities are shown for all to hear.
Fifth track, The Lights, is the song INXS never did, while the heavily synth-laden Don’t You Feel slips by pretty much unnoticed. Only Way Out, where, hilariously, Caine actually sounds like Suggs (which, from sounding like Pete Burns, is no mean feat, I’m sure you’ll agree), is another low-key tune and pretty forgettable. The bad patch in the album continues with the cheesy pop number, Neighbours.
The earlier Gary Numan reference comes to the fore on Raise Your Hand, one of only two tracks on the album where Andrews is given sole vocal responsibilities. Raising the standard once more, on what is a very hit and miss album, it is no surprise that this retro pop tune was the first single release from The Lights, way back in 2004.
Beat-heavy electronic instrumental Am I Ever would not sound out of place on an Alan Parson’s Project album, and definitely gets the thumbs up from this deluded critic. Although, typical of an album that continues to frustrate, the same can not be said of Riverbed, on which some of the singing sounds like it is coming from the mouths of school kids.
It is the upbeat numbers which impress most on an album which frustrates so much because of the handful of tracks which raise expectations that are dashed just as quickly. The breezy final song, No Conditions, does leave the listener with positive thoughts, however, on what is an overall good debut, albeit not a great one.