Although they reformed in 2003, psychedelic garage indie rockers Inspiral Carpets have only now got round to releasing a new album, 20 years on from their last one. They may not have had the same impact as the likes of The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses since their heyday in the Madchester/Baggy era, but this underrated band produced four top-twenty albums and a string of minor hit singles in the early 90s. And the new material feels like a positive rejuvenation.
If the self-titled album signals starting over again, the band has in fact gone right back to their roots in terms of personnel. Following the sudden departure of lead vocalist Tom Hingley in 2011, they are now fronted again by co-founder and original singer Stephen Holt, who left in 1989 midway through the sessions for debut album Life. Hingley’s singing was more demonstrative than the understated Holt, whose stripped-back style suits the band’s presently slightly harder-edged sound.
Though not as psyched up as formerly, the music still has a retro ’60s vibe, with swirling organ-playing from Farfisa maestro Clint Boon, tasty guitar licks from Graham Lambert, and sharp grooves from bassist Martyn Walsh and drummer Craig Gill. And like before, melodic lines and infectious choruses tend to make a stronger impression than the half-hearted lyrics, apart from the odd memorable phrase.
The album makes a storming start with the darkly atmospheric Monochrome, bristling with organ and guitar riffs. The sweetly yearning current single Spitfire (“You and I have future dreams / Where we could be as one”) heads up to the clouds with a soaring chorus. In contrast, You’re So Good For Me, the band’s comeback single from two years ago, seems a rather hesitant expression of love as redemption. A To Z Of My Heart shows a resigned acceptance of the uncertainties of life (“Some things sometimes happen for a reason that we never know why … The future will happen when the time is right”), with Holt reaching down for a deeper register and Boon pulling out all the stops.
One of the best tracks, Calling Out To You, builds up a compelling momentum in its desperate plea against loneliness, but the album’s slowest song Flying Like A Bird is also the weakest (love won’t last as “This bird ain’t got no wings”), with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies failing to help it take flight. Changes has a catchy tune, a football terrace drum beat and an arresting comparison, “The click-clack cans of Coca-Cola / Sound like a soundtrack from Morricone”, but Hey Now comes across as a somewhat bland filler.
Beginning a bit like Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting For The Man, Our Time shows a fuzzier side to the band, with echoey instrumentation, while though musically reminiscent of The Charlatans’ classic Weirdo, Forever Here has a defiant attitude of its own: “Nobody ever get in my way / I’m staying around now, won’t go away.” Let You Down’s organ riffs betrays the influence of The Doors, with distorted effects underlining untrustworthy love and Mancunian punk poet John Cooper Clarke speaking the words of a dodgy dealer, “Dr Reliable”. The thudding bass-line of Human Shield gives way to the relief of “When night falls and day breaks / You pick up the pieces and keep them safe” to close the album on a note of consoling love.
Sounding surprisingly fresh and sprightly for a band now well into their 50s, Inspiral Carpets seem to have changed remarkably little in all these years, and even more remarkably their songs are just as vibrant. This album does not feature any stand-out tunes like Directing Traffic, Two Worlds Collide or Saturn 5 but it is very consistent. The band may not have moved on musically but with the results this strong it feels much more than just a lazy trip down memory lane.