The debut album from Essex four-piece The Milk is a likeable mix of soulful pop-rock with a strong feel-good factor. Tales From The Thames Delta may wear its Motown and Stax influences proudly on its sleeve, but it’s not just a retro tribute as the sound is given a modern twist with the lively introduction of electronic dance beats. Lighter and less muscular than The Heavy (whose third album was released a fortnight ago), The Milk nonetheless share that band’s homage to classic sixties soul music.
Lead singer Rick Nunn’s powerful vocals are foregrounded so, for once, words are clearly audible, expressed with gutsy emotion, though it has to be said the lyrics are not The Milk’s strongest point. Dan LeGresley on guitar and brothers Luke and Mitch Ayling on bass and drums, respectively, give sharp support while impassioned backing vocals add a lot to the overall effect.
Tales From The Thames Delta is cleverly produced by Brad Baloo (one half of hip-hop DJ re-mixers The Nextmen, who are working on Plan B’s delayed third studio album). He injects some contemporary urgency into what could become a backward-looking exercise, with echoing fragments between tracks providing extra urban texture.
The album starts at speed with the high-octane Broke Up The Family, based on a driving rhythm and a killer chorus, “I said, no, no, I don’t feel like going home / Because of what you said”, with Nunn growling angrily. Hometown is a snappy dance track with a positive vibe and a live club ambience. “Something always brings me back…Somewhere between nowhere and goodbye” may be the very first lyrical description of small-town Wickford.
The Milk’s debut single (All I Wanted Was) Danger captures the affirmative spirit of Motown again. “If life’s a bullet, you better get up and bite it”, Nunn sings, looking for excitement to escape from depressive boredom. The get-up-and-go Mr Motivator moves from electronica scratching into a reggae groove with accentuated guitar riffs and a hint of brass. Nothing But Matter evokes a carnival atmosphere of summery ska, with its loose jamming and insouciant sing-a-long reminiscent of The Specials in upbeat mood.
The hip-hop-style B-Roads is a cautionary tale about getting mixed up with gangsters: “My mama told me you gotta live on the run / Or you’ll die young.” The funky, sweaty Kimmi Kimmi is a drunken lads’ night out where you can almost smell the sex. Picking Up The Pieces starts with heavy-rock guitar riff followed by a repeated staccato piano motif, as the singer “born on the wrong side of town” tries to stop his life falling apart. Every Time We Fight retains the darker tone, portraying the strains of an embattled relationship.
New single Chip The Kids in contrast is a cheery, party-mood number aimed at the dance floor. The album closes on a melancholy note with Lay The Pain On Me, a piano-led blues-gospel ballad, with Nunn’s high-pitched vocals straining for emotional release, desperately affirming that “luck’s gotta change”.
The Milk’s white soul may be skimmed rather than full bodied but Tales From The Thames Delta is still good wholesome stuff.