The weight of expectation has hung on the shoulders of Manchester quintet Alfie, ever since a promising debut on the Twisted Nerve label. Talk of filling the shoes of Oasis always seemed unfair on the band, however, given the difference between them in musical style. If anything they’re more likely to be snapped up by fans of Belle and Sebastian rather than beer fuelled rock.
Now under the wings of EMI, Alfie return with their third album, seemingly encouraged to throw extra firepower into their production. Despite this, they remain at their most effective in a more acoustic climate, free to spin sunshine harmonies in songs such as Applecart and the feel good backing of Crying At Teatime.
Not only that, but singer Lee Gorton’s voice sounds most at home over the intricate textures and melodic lines the band weave. Quiet-loud single Your Own Religion shows this more than anything, the barrage of the guitar riff getting in the way. In an album mix it sounds more effective but in no way reflects what follows.
Far more representative are tracks like the carefree Colours, Gorton’s softly sung vocal leading into a layered, easygoing chorus. This is where Alfie allow their pop music to take on folk and country inflections, something you’d be unlikely to get on an Oasis album.
Badly Drawn Boy would be proud of Look At You Now, a song that revisits their Twisted Nerve roots, a wistful piece of folk-pop that on closer inspection reveals deft production noise around the edges. Wizzo, too, with its offbeat vocal line, uses cascading electronic effects, warm-hearted strings and, like Damon Gough, a hummable chorus, which leads to that rare thing – a sublime solo on French horn.
All of which goes against the brash rock-out of the single, leading to a sure case of mistaken identity. It’s almost as if someone at the record company demanded a wall of sound to appeal to the current chart audience, rather than an approach compatible with the band. To illustrate this point, closing track Kitsuné also employs a fuller guitar sound, but in a more stately fashion, making a powerful impact in the process.
At times the band remains on the twee side, a previous criticism, and occasionally substitute their carefully realised arrangements for a distinctive chorus melody.
They have however produced an enjoyable album that’s easy to relate to and sing along with, and one where repeated listenings are to be encouraged. It’s to be hoped their record label ensure they do their own thing from here on.