Durham family trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis stormed in, seemingly from nowhere, with their 2008 debut, and overnight became the poster-kids for the retro generation. Courted by Vogue, taken on tour by Coldplay, it’s no wonder it’s taken them two and a half years to follow it up.
The sequel’s been a long time coming but it’s been worth the wait. True to form, they’ve not let the hype seep in, instead creating an intricately crafted, well-studied account of their favourite music. They’re famed for their ’50s rockabilly sound, but Smoking In Heaven goes further than that, showing off a passion and deep-rooted knowledge of ’40s and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, blues; it even touches on ska. The result is an album that goes beyond kitsch and demands to be taken seriously.
The last few years have been good for the teens, particularly middle-child and composer Lewis. His lyrics are simple, the sound heavy-handed; but this unapologetic approach, which sees them steal sounds and run with them, allows him to introduce dozens of instruments to aid his quest for an authentic sound. There are lap steels, harmonicas – you name it, it’s on here, and it was recorded with analogue equipment to give it that fuzzy, crackly 78″ sound. The band are tighter too, as displayed in the three instrumentals, What Quid?, Smoking In Heaven and Paan Man Boogie.
Highlights include Baby Don’t You Know, in which Kitty’s vocals swoon around a laid back, sultry, bluesy number which gradually builds into a raucous jam. Elsewhere, Lewis takes over vocal duties for Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me, which uses a simple, looping drum and bass backing for his old Americana voice as he tells his bitter, timeless tale.
Single I’m Going Back harks back to their first album; a more straight-up ’50s rockabilly sound aggressive and in your face from the very start. The chorus is growled, cymbals crash and electric guitars twiddle their way throughout; it’s high energy rock ‘n’ roll. All great fun but, as the first single from Smoking In Heaven, not a great ambassador for the rest of the album and their new, more complex sounds. Its B-side, I’m So Sorry, does upbeat dance floor filler with more style. A trumpeting build-up, the lyrics might be throw away but it’s an irresistible tune that will stay with you long after the rest of the album.
Messing With My Life allows them to indulge a teenage brattishness they usually keep under wraps. Pouty and with enough attitude to give Amy Winehouse a run for her money, it’s their most stripped back track, highlighting their reliance on busy, chaotic instrumentation; lyrics are their secondary concern.
I’m Coming Home is undoubtedly Lewis’s pet project; a pre-rock ‘n’ roll, twiddlesome song with a gorgeously warm, crackly sound. It’s delicately crafted, and anyone who has previously dismissed Kitty, Daisy & Lewis as a novelty band should give it a listen; his strive for authenticity is endearing, and the fact that they manage it so convincingly should silence their critics.
They don’t always hit the mark; Tomorrow, Will I Ever and You’ll Soon Be Here are forgettable. But Smoking In Heaven is a great achievement, to be enjoyed again and again.