It’s been exactly three years since Sulk’s debut Graceless appeared; perhaps more tellingly, it’s been 27 years since The Stone Roses’ debut, and a bit less since Britpop. Both are labels that have been plastered all over the Londoners for the past five years, and the band didn’t seem to care much for the comparisons. “When we first played these tunes to an audience, everyone thought it was 1977 again,” they said in 2013, trying to put the record straight as the Manchester, shoegaze, Britpop etc., comparisons came flooding in.
Since then, touring with Happy Mondays has done little to alter opinions. And the similarities to 1990s bands are inescapable, really. So much so that they could actually be considered to be the missing link – not meaning a relation to King Monkey himself, Ian Brown – between the legendary album from Brown and friends and the rather indulgent, long awaited follow-up Second Coming. Perhaps more accurately still, the missing link between that first Stone Roses album and, ahem, Britpop.
A month long recording session in Chas And Dave’s most favourite sunny Kent seaside resort of Margate in a neo-Gothic church saw the majority of work for Sulk’s own second album, No Illusions. Twenty demos were subsequently whittled down to form the ten tracks on the album, all at the hands of the relatively unknown producer/mixer Jonas Verwijnen, a stark contrast to when the much heralded Ed Buller (White Lies, Suede) took the helm for Graceless.
They like their guitar riffs, do these five lads, and one of their most instantly memorable opens the album via lead single Black Infinity (Upside Down), the shimmery jangle leading to pummeling drums and catchy chorus for an impressive start. After The Only Faith Is Love dabbles with an Eastern psychedelic sound that, under the covers, sounds like early Oasis, another cracking guitar melody kicks in for the title track, a strong contender for the biggest highlight of the album’s first half. Aside from the captivating guitar line, the chorus also excels alongside glittering percussion.
Either side of a Coldplay-like guitar line within One Day, there’s a couple of Stone Roses moments. Drifting could be a close cousin of Waterfall while the excellent Past Paradise, the only track on the collection to exceed five minutes, eases into earshot with echoing industrial noise effects before singer Jon Sutcliffe delivers a vocal performance eerily reminiscent of Mr Brown, the guitaring this time also likely to jog a few memory cells.
The reverb drenched Queen Supreme heads back off towards Oasis swagger, but with more melodic guitars, before the album explodes in glory. Firstly, Love Can’t Save You Now utilises more catchy guitar work before a rousing chorus recalls another Manchester outfit, The Charlatans, from the Some Friendly era. And then second single from the album The Tape Of You arrives, with its shimmering guitars, melodic synths and stunning chorus – sublime. Another Man Fades Down then closes the album with another instantly accessible chorus to more Madchester familiarity.
It would be folly to cast No Illusions aside as mere fool’s gold, for this album is the real deal. And while it’s difficult to avoid the obvious comparisons, they all represent landmark moments of the last 20-30 years, so what’s wrong with that exactly? Nothing at all, really.