There was much to admire about Eagulls’ self-titled debut album. To attempt to put a new spin on the post-punk sound is always a daunting task, but the Leeds-based rockers undoubtedly made an impression with their angsty lyrics and relentless, lightning-fast riffs. Tracks such as Nerve Endings, Hollow Visions and Tough Luck were fierce and uncompromising, with the band rarely taking their foot off the accelerator.
As is always the way, comparisons with their musical forefathers abounded, but Eagulls were more than just a tribute act to bands such as Killing Joke or Public Image Ltd. They felt fresh and exciting – albeit, a very morbid kind of exciting. In fact, such was their impact in the States, they managed to secure a primetime slot on the Late Show With David Letterman, which appeared to be just reward for their four years of hard toil.
Following a year of touring the album extensively, the band returned to their rehearsal space – a converted Catholic church – to start work on the notoriously ‘difficult’ second album, with the pressure only accentuated due to the success and critical acclaim that greeted their debut. Yet rather than stick with what was comfortable, Eagulls have substantially shifted their sound on Ullages (which is an anagram of their name).
It is still unmistakably an Eagulls’ record, but from the very start there is a prominent focus on melody as they distance themselves from the brashness of their debut. Opener Heads Or Tails is a perfect example of this new focus. It begins with a foreboding guitar riff that instantly draws you in, before lead singer George Mitchell’s distinctive vocal adds to the sense of dread, as he ponders: “It’s hard to tell who we are this time.”
There is a clear progression both lyrically and sonically. The creeping melody is given time to breathe and work its way under the skin in a manner reminiscent of The Horrors, while Mitchell’s lyrics are no longer simply concerned with his anxiety – which was the primary theme of the first LP. Euphoria further builds on the atmosphere established by the opener, with its shimmering guitar riff and towering chorus giving The Cure a run for their money.
Lemontrees was the first release from Eagulls’ second record and as with Euphoria, it has a hint of The Cure about it, despite being one of the few moments where the band ramp up the pace. The chainsaw riff and restless drum work creates urgency, but it is still in keeping with the more layered approach to songwriting practiced by Mitchell on Ullages, as he bawls: “Share a nation’s consciousness/ and just drown our thoughts to sleep.”
While darkness undoubtedly continues to punctuate much of what Eagulls do, there is occasionally a faint light at the end of the gloomy tunnel. The haunting single My Life In Rewind sees Mitchell consider changing significant moments in his past. This sense of reflection continues to permeate Skipping and Psalms, before closer White Lie Lullabies concludes the record with what is virtually a homage to The Smiths.
Some may find Ullages too much – there is only a finite amount of gloom one person can take before searching out something to lighten the mood – and it is true that Mitchell’s mournful vocal becomes slightly wearing at times. Yet just when the record starts to lag, Eagulls hit back with a sprawling epic like Aisles, which possesses a chorus big enough to wake anyone from their slumber.
In fact, everything about Ullages feels bigger. Eagulls have not just expanded their sonic palette, they also explore far weightier questions about life through their lyrics. As a result, the record instantly comes across as a more advanced and mature proposition compared to its predecessor, which was more interested in instant thrills. It is a remarkable transformation from a band that continue to go from strength to strength.