Departure Lounge are possibly one of the music industry’s best kept secrets. The Nashville based foursome released a fine debut album, Out Of Here, back in June 1999, which while not causing any kind of splash amongst the record buying public, was a perfect exercise in flawless, affecting songwriting. Songs such as The New You, Music For Pleasure and Save Me From Happiness recalled Blue Nile in their prime, and leader Tim Keegan wore his Morrissey and Glen Tilbrook lyrical influences on his sleeve.
If there was a problem with Out Of Here, it was a lack of variety. These were beautiful, melancholic songs, but the mid-pacing of most of the tracks took their toll by the records end. That drawback is magnificently rectified by Too Late To Die Young which will probably be one of the most musically varied albums of 2002.
The credit for this must lie with producer Kid Loco who has totally revitalised the band’s sound – a prime example of this is the upcoming single King Kong Frown. A funky, shuffling beast of a record which recalls The Stone Roses, if this had the right publicity it could probably spark a Madchester revival. If you could stand the sight of bell bottom flares on the streets again that is.
On the album, King Kong Frown is preceded by Straight Line To The Kerb and What You Have Is Good, two more examples of this record’s variety. The former is a slow, wistful song with Keegan reflecting that “I worry about us” before concluding that “I’m not in your life anymore”. It’s a sad, mournful song which somehow manages to sound nicely positive at the same time. What You Have Is Good meanwhile strays into Talking Heads territory, with similarly excellent results. A more upbeat track, the song continues the lyrical theme of wistful hopefulness with a chorus of “Be brave, sleep tight, what you have is good”.
Inevitably, the band can’t keep up this high quality and things dip for a while with Alone Again And…, which despite featuring a marvellous piece of acoustic guitar, is somewhat spoiled by Keegan’s insistence of adopting an unbecoming falsetto for most of the song. Tubular Belgians In My Goldfield, despite featuring a fantastic title, is a rather drifting instrumental that becomes slightly monotonous over it’s seven minutes.
Thankfully, that’s the only low patch of the album. Be Good To Yourself is a lolloping, rather menacing track which is followed by a wonderful, country flavoured duet with Sing-Sing‘s Lisa O’Neill, Over The Side. Keegan and O’Neill’s voices complement each other perfectly, and the result brings to mind Tindersticks finest moment, Travelling Light. As if to prove the album’s tendency to go off on a wild tangent, Over The Side is followed by Coke & Flakes, a storming instrumental featuring Robyn Hitchcock on harmonica, which is followed in turn by ‘Silverline’. Now if Silverline, with its killer line “Too much love and no more time” doesn’t bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye, then you’re officially made of stone.
Going on merit, Too Late To Die Young should establish Departure Lounge as one of the major acts of the year. Sadly, the lack of any real image (the cover features a silhouette of the group with their backs to the camera while staring out to sea!) will probably mean that Tim Keegan and his wonderful band stay an undiscovered gem. Buy it now, and feel smug if they ever do get the success they deserve.