It may have been recorded in Paul Weller’s studio, but The Rifles have left their Mod roots well behind in their third album Freedom Run. The Walthamstow boys have transformed their sound from early Jam-influenced spiky guitar indie rock to a much fuller and more varied style. Their streetwise debut No Love Lost was rough and ready, while their sophomore effort Great Escape had a slightly more rounded feel. Now they have taken it to a new level.
Freedom Run gives off a very positive vibe, full of confidence and embracing emotion wholeheartedly, built mainly on love songs. Compared with their former edginess it could even seem soft-centred if it wasn’t for the strength of the songs. Post-punk moodiness has given way to a more mellifluous ’60s sound as laddishness has been replaced by a new-found maturity. The change in personnel, with singer Joel Stoker and guitarist Lucas Crowther being joined by a new rhythm section of Lee Burgess and Kenton Shinn, plus keyboardist Dean Mumford, has no doubt played a part, as has the input of Verve producer Chris Potter.
The new tone is set by the opening track Dreamer, an uplifting soulful number with unstoppable drive which is all about the protagonist aspiring to “moving on to a different place”. Long Walk Back continues the theme of the potential for self-renewal and empowerment by refusing to get stuck in a rut: “This time don’t tell me that’s all there is …something might be about to change.”
The single Tangled Up In Love is a sweetly melodic, string-accompanied celebration of being head over heels: “When you call my name the whole wide world can walk away.” The Dylanesque Eveline starts off as an acoustic guitar ballad before handclapping signals the introduction of the full band, complete with organ and harmonica playing.
Love Is A Key comes with ’60s-style rattling tambourine and psychedelic guitar solo, with Stoker (whose Cockney accent seems to have almost vanished) at his most mellifluous singing, ‘If you really love me let it show / Cos love is a dream”. The string-laden Nothing Matters uses a Spectorish wall of sound to build to a big climax.
Despite its title, I Get Low comes across as a chirpily optimistic tune, as the singer pleads to his lover, “Take me back to your heart / And make a new start”. Easily the longest track at almost seven minutes’ long, Little Boy Blue (Human Needs) is also the most complex, with several shifts in tempo and mood, ending in a swirl of distorted guitar and feedback.
The Rifles’ songwriting has developed so much that at times they are unrecognisable from their early days. This album does indeed show a band running with a newly discovered sense of freedom.