Tom and Alex White were just teenagers when they released Holes In The Wall, Electric Soft Parade‘s Mercury-nominated debut; mere slips of lads whose accomplished sound was always at odds with their tender years, especially in stellar singles like Silent To The Dark, There’s A Silence and Empty At The End.
That particular high was more than a decade ago, and their last album – 2007’s No Need To Be Downhearted – is now six years old. Little wonder the pair took a little time out after writing and recording music pretty much continuously between 1997 and 2009.
Now, recharged and refreshed, they’ve reconnected with Holes In The Wall producers Chris Hughes and Mark Frith to bring us IDIOTS. A lean, 40-minute LP that’s big on melody and small on post-production – are The Electric Soft Parade about to bolster their legacy and embolden their entry in the big book of British music?
The early signs are encouraging: album opener The Sun Never Sets Around Here builds magnificently from prosaic strumming to ascending guitar licks via distinctly English couplets. The Brightonians always had a knack for ear-pricking progressions, and it remains intact. In fact, there are shades of Jeff Lynne apparent from the outset, particularly his later, less heralded efforts like Mercy.
Summertime In My Heart marks a particular highlight with a bright, breezy, warm-weather dash that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their catchiest of tracks. Sure, their matching outfits and oversized specs in the video may make them look like a mismatched Proclaimers, but this is pure gold; an effortless encapsulation of the White brothers’ special ingredients.
The short and sweet Brother You Must Walk Your Path Alone brings things down a notch – its jangly composition akin to Camera Obscura covering Harry Nilsson – before The Corner Of Highdown And Montefiore takes the opposite approach, every second of its seven-minute existence measured to perfection, its careful crescendo not spurning the album’s momentum but rather channeling it into a broader, more visceral direction.
The title track fails to capitalize initially, its synth-and-strumming opening segment sounding like a lethargic Lightning Seeds, but redeems itself with an epic chorus that represents one of the album’s richest passages, including the tolling of what could be church bells. Mr Mitchell, meanwhile, takes a lighthearted tribute to their guitarist and turns it into a lesson in lyricism; a longstanding arrow in the band’s collective quiver.
Granted, face-melting moments are few and far between – One Of Those Days revives that same Nilsson sound but strays a little too close to easy listening vibes; Lily is loud but lacks edge; Never Again’s piano platitude compromises its message – but these are not the same fresh-faced youngsters whose blossoming in 2002 was as welcome as it was unexpected. Alex and Tom’s feisty debut doesn’t live in isolation but as the first chapter in their story; a story in which the songs grow neither better nor worse – only more mature.