It’s a grey Sunday afternoon at a festival. You’re sitting with your mates waiting for the main attraction, drinking just enough to take the edge off your hangover. You’ve been bored by several Travis-a-likes and their dreary drone, and then Ray Davies comes on, confident and cheerful, and plays some songs you know well and some that are kind of familiar, putting on funny accents for Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Lola, and it’s just what you want to hear.
You’re pleasantly uplifted. The sun shows signs of coming out. You’re singing along, maybe you’re even swaying a bit. You’re not about to leap to your feet and start waving your hands in the air and screaming, but it’s really very pleasant. This pleasant territory is where you’re likely to come across the 747s‘ debut album.
Their mixed history and broad backgrounds (four countries of origin, and an enthusiasm for everything from punk to funk to musicals) meant that their early releases jumped styles. Out of this mix they’ve produced an album which has several distinct sections to it, which progressively improves as it goes on.
Listening to current single, Death Of A Star, I wondered if its smooth harmonies and moments of explosive guitar playing would be typical of the new album. It’s certainly a more commercial sound than the wired up jerkiness of earlier material like Anxiety, or their stabs at reggae.
The first three tracks offer pretty standard indie-pop, confirming a concerted, more commercial direction. Then we pass onto songs like Leave Your Job Today! and Nature’s Alibi, which tap into that vein of cod-Englishness so loved by The Kinks and The Small Faces, and continued by Blur in the Britpop explosion – The Feeling seem to be its latest exponents.
Whatever the subject, the songs sound happy. There’s lots of plinky-plonky piano and clumsy drumming, with the kind of production that makes them sound as though they were recorded years ago.
Then the spiky sound of Anxiety’s guitar starts up, and you’re into the final third, a grab bag of styles and approaches. Perhaps it’s just their gift for close harmonies, but by this time the 747s were reminding me of Queen circa Night At The Opera: quirky, playful, occasionally bombastic, producing big riffs and big tunes and then switching to almost comic numbers.
Their main problem is they don’t have Freddie Mercury’s vocals to rely on, with frontman Oisin Leech still at the stage common to many young performers where he’s more concerned with sounding pleasant rather than exploring his voice as an instrument.
Nor have they really gotten to grips with songwriting yet. Hopefully it will come, but for now their musicianship far outweighs their ability to write lyrics that are worthy of their rather good tunes. You can get away with it for a couple of punchy, repetitive singles, but the lack shows in an album with 14 tracks. Too often ideas are dull and poorly expressed.
The more you listen, the more your attention goes beyond the lyrics and begins to pick out the interesting phrases in the music, little echoes of this and that, clever changes of pace and intensity, and the more you find yourself liking Zampano.