It must be down to the weather. Ever since Echo & The Bunnymen first strapped on their guitars over 35 years ago, the north west of England has produced a steady stream of notable bands that specialise in a very particular brand of widescreen, epic misery. The Smiths’ wit, flair and deftness of touch elevated them to a higher plane, one that defies categorisation, yet a notch below are the likes of The Verve and Doves, who crafted a vast sound dripping with urban gloom, allied to a knack for anthemic choruses that resulted in major commercial success.
Manchester’s MONEY are the latest group from the region to pick up this mantle. Founded back in 2011, their debut album The Shadow Of Heaven appeared two years later with their supremely confident musical vision already fully formed. Bursting at the seams with portentous, grandiose songs, more than half over five minutes long, it also announced the arrival of a charismatic front man in Jamie Lee.
Lee has since claimed to be a little disappointed with The Shadow Of Heaven, opining that it didn’t quite live up to expectations, which bearing in mind the extensive praise it received certainly set the bar high for MONEY’s next record. It’s just as well then that Suicide Songs is another album of laudable ambition, scale and emotional resonance.
Right from the opening track I Am The Lord (MONEY’s song titles are no less understated than their music and The Almighty is a recurring presence) it’s clear Lee and his band mates Charlie Cocksedge and Billy Byron are carrying on where their debut left off. Swirling layers of dilruba (an Indian string instrument) slowly build, accompanied by thumping drums, before Lee’s Richard Ashcroft-like, tortured rasp of a voice joins the fray. At well over six minutes, it isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere, but by the time it’s over the listener is fully immersed in MONEY’s swaggeringly self-assured yet palpably dystopian world.
I Am The Lord sets the tone for what’s to come, but we don’t have long to wait before its quality is surpassed. Third track You Look Like A Sad Painting is an absolute barnstormer, an anguished ballad climaxing with Lee wailing wordlessly above a swell of soaring strings. Night Came, while excellent, is maybe just a bit overstretched at eight minutes long, but it’s adroitly counterbalanced by the delightful economy of the two minute title track, a simple, yearning melody backed by mournful horns that could almost pass for a Mancunian Neutral Milk Hotel.
The big songs keep on coming, culminating in the almost unbearably melodramatic All My Life, complete with a gospel choir, before Suicide Songs closes with the uncharacteristically muted piano lament Cocaine Christmas and An Alcoholic New Year. Arguably a slight misstep, Lee’s slurred delivery and the blurry festive vibe do veer a little towards a Shane MacGowan impersonation. But it’s only a minor gripe on an album that mostly delivers in spades.
With lyrics focusing on mental illness, alienation and inner city melancholy and its relentlessly apocalyptic arrangements, there’s no doubt some will find Suicide Songs rather heavy going. But while the pudding is occasionally over-egged, in general this is a work of great individuality and poise that should increase MONEY’s currency as one of the best young British bands to emerge in recent years.