The Pigeon Detectives were massive once. In the wake of Arctic Monkeys’ runaway success, they were one of the many slightly less talented indie bands who suddenly shot up the charts. Two Top 5 albums, Wait For Me and Emergency (the former of which went platinum) and four Top 20 singles in just over two years made them a serious prospect. If not dominating the big leagues of British guitar music, they were certainly occupying a respectable mid-table position.
Then, the guitar boom tailed off. Their third album, released after a lengthy hiatus, met with indifference and The Pigeon Detectives faded into obscurity. Now they’re releasing a fourth effort, We Met At Sea. It remains to be seen whether anybody will care, much. It’s a shame, because this is probably their most accomplished album to date.
To qualify that statement: it’s their least annoying album. The Pigeon Detectives formula has barely changed, although there’s a little more reverb. But the performance is slightly more palatable – singer Matt Bowman has toned down his hapless-young-man schtick, for start, which is only a good thing. “I don’t want to hold your gaze/ ’Cause it would only make me fall in love with you’ is a Shakespearean sonnet compared to a lot of his previous efforts, and makes a decent if one-dimensional chorus for Hold Your Gaze. Some of the improvements are more incidental: years of playing have obviously improved the band’s ability simply to play, and their songs – always so ephemeral sounding, so barely-there – feel of greater weight than on previous efforts.
It’s interesting that this is a result of a deliberate decision on the part of the band to try and capture their live sound on record. Strong live performances were always something The Pigeon Detectives had a reputation for. The Enemy beat them to a Best Live Band NME award in 2007, but comments on their YouTube videos attest to their live prowess. Apparently, most of the album was recorded as live takes, and mistakes have, on the whole, been left in. To the band’s credit, you can’t hear many.
To be sure, We Met At Sea is immediate, as Pigeon Detectives records always were. That was pretty much their only charm. What’s new is solidity – admittedly, there’s only about as much muscle on this record as you can fit into a pair of torn drainpipe jeans, but it’s more than there ever was before. Songs like Animal and I Won’t Come Back have a real physicality to them. The Pigeon Detectives used to sound like the hapless lads at the back of the pub consistently failing to catch the barmaid’s eye. These days they sound more confident – you can actually imagine them talking to the girls they sing about without blushing.
However, despite the positive changes, this is an album pretty certainly doomed to obscurity. Whatever chart placing it receives, it won’t be high. The Pigeon Detectives are very much a band of their era, and their era was over, or at least on its way out, about six years ago. So while this is a solid effort – and a more solid one than anything they’ve put together before – it’s not likely to set the world, or the charts, on fire.