Ian Broudie and co’s first album in over a decade contains gradually revealed treasures, and presents proof that consistency pays off
Is consistency an underrated value in music? While world events are less predictable than ever, there is something oddly reassuring about the return of a songwriter and band whose consistency at their peak was arguably under-appreciated.
Ian Broudie’s Lightning Seeds stayed largely under the radar in late 1980s and early 1990s. They burst through to the mainstream thanks to football-related coverage of Life Of Riley (‘Goal of the Month’ music on the BBC’s Match Of The Day) and then a rich vein of form capable of lifting the mood of many a radio listener. Lasting gems such as Lucky You, Change, Marvellous and Ready Or Not can still be heard on the radio today, while live performances of the Jollification album show it has only improved with age. Then there is Three Lions, soundtrack to a generation of heroic underachievement for the English football team.
Ironically the sportsmen are pretty much back where they were in 1996 – since when Broudie’s Lightning Seeds have been on two lengthy sabbaticals. See You In The Stars may be their first album in 13 years, but the front man sees it as the true follow-up to 1999’s Tilt. It finds him back on the songwriting bike with enviable poise, the 10 songs packed with melodic content.
Yet things have moved on lyrically, with a more direct approach that means the words have to work harder to achieve the strawberry-flavoured fizz of previous highs. The songs often look upwards, preoccupied with celestial bodies as they speak of the moon, the sun and ultimately the stars, for which the music often pines.
While “every little thing feels fine” on Sunshine, many of the songs have to gain their happiness after wrestling downward facing thoughts and anxieties. These reflect struggles Broudie himself has spoken about, from family bereavements to anxiety at the ongoing quality of his own compositions. “Just reaching out – are you OK?” he asks in Emily Smiles, a co-write with Terry Hall. The bittersweet song ends with the exhortation to say “goodbye to sorrow, say hello to tomorrow”. Permanent Damage speaks of deeper hurts. “Tell me something good,” he pleads, after a frank admission that “my heart’s in trouble”.
Happily for listeners the struggles are ultimately overcome through musical positivity. Green Eyes has an attractive countermelody whose tone is reminiscent of Pure, the first big Lightning Seeds hit. Great To Be Alive has an easy, ambling gait that Badly Drawn Boy would be proud of. The winning goal is ultimately scored in the closing title track, where Broudie addresses the death of a close friend head on. “The angels smile and laugh along with you,” he sings reassuringly, before turning to “Stay strong, keep on, believe in love when things go wrong”.
The ‘grow’ factor needs to be taken into account here, for a lot of these songs subtly work their way into your psyche. There may not be anything as immediate as Marvellous, as ultimately uplifting as Change, but there are some resolute, multilayered numbers here that have a good deal of substance. As always with Broudie’s work there is very little padding, and the production is immaculate, if now allowing more room for the greater depth of feeling.
The cover picture of See You In The Stars is revealing, the clouds on the horizon painting a troubled picture. Then you see the stars themselves, twinkling resolutely in the half light. It is a fitting metaphor for an album whose treasures are gradually revealed, clothed in the familiar Lightning Seeds jacket of pure pop music. Proof that consistency does, after all, pay off.