2009 is barely a quarter old and it seems we may have already found the single of the year. True No9 Blues (True Romance) is a joyous amalgam of glam, funk and electro with a dash of modern-day synth pop thrown in for good measure. It sounds like Prince fronting Spandau Ballet, remixed by Nile Rodgers. Lyrically it’s utter nonsense – “love your brothers and sisters” – which only makes it that much more uplifting, especially when you find yourself wailing the chorus whilst playing ‘air keyboard’ in a packed tube train.
But we’re not reviewing the single, rather the accompanying album, which after all that promise is something of a minor let down. For a start there’s nothing as inventive or exuberant as the (near) title track, and there are at least two songs that reminded this listener of The Feeling, a sentence I hoped I’d never have to write.
Perhaps we need some perspective though. This is, after all, their debut album and though there are faults there are also enough signs that they know what it takes to bother the charts. Plus, in front man Gwylim they have a focal point, a man who dresses like a psychedelic street urchin, dances exuberantly behind his keyboard (they don’t have a guitarist) and whose voice resembles the London lilt of Elvis Costello were he to gargle marbles. Words don’t just tumble from his mouth; they seem to flop out, almost lazily.
Opener Another Universe is a brilliant introduction, all dramatic synth strings, pounding drums and twinkling piano. Just as you begin to settle, the chorus lurches up – reminiscent of Super Furry Animals at their most symphonic – before a juddering, machine-gun beat adds a dash of danger. Magic Touch and Arrows of Eros are equally brilliant, the former utilising a penchant for delicious three-part harmonies, whilst the latter features a delirious keyboard riff that actually makes you laugh.
Credit must also go to producer Lexxx (Crystal Castles, Esser), who helps create surprises at every turn, from the minute long coda on Arrows of Eros that is best described as a horn section in meltdown, to the undulating beat that underpins the melancholy The Seed.
Things go slightly awry, however, when the band dip their toes in the forbidden waters marked ‘jaunty’. Queen of the 21st Century is pretty awful, a mess of do-wop backing vocals, Vaudeville piano flurries and a neon sign that reads MOR in ten foot letters. The 50 seconds of keyboard noise tagged onto the end hints they might have heard it themselves.
So, is True Romance merely one killer single and a load of filler? No. Does it live up to the quality of its lead single? No. But somewhere inbetween exists an album bristling with invention, a debut that harks back to ’70s-era David Bowie, the synth-lead pop of the ’80s and the effortless merging of the two in bands such as Mystery Jets and The Long Blondes. Plus, if you get bored, there’s always that single to go back to.