Anyone who owns a copy of 2002’s fantastic Sunshine Hit Me will already know about the kind of musical delights that The Bees are able to produce. Indeed, the album won critical acclaim, even a Mercury Music Prize nomination, and ultimately enjoyed some (rather unexpected) commercial popularity. It’s been a long two years, but the likely lads from the Isle of Wight are set to unleash their second child – Free The Bees.
Like Sunshine Hit Me, Free The Bees abides by simple principles. Each track boasts a spectrum of admirable qualities, from No Atmosphere’s Worzel Gummidge-like bouncy chord progression to Hourglass’s beautiful and soothing crescendo via Chicken Payback’s absurdly Austin Powers-style groove. They may have signed to a major label since we heard them last, but they haven’t forgotten how to have fun with their music. There’s still plenty of brass, organ and maraca sound in the mixer: It’s refreshing, and just in time for the great British summer!
To draw a more specific comparison with their older material, The Bees would appear to be slightly more driven (compare Wash In The Rain’s obtuse chord changes to Punchbag’s nursery rhyme approach). Similarly, affairs have taken a distinctly retro direction, and the album wanders between 60’s folk-rock and 70’s psychadelia with astonishing ease. You could play Free The Bees to an unassuming friend and tell them it was several decades old. They’d probably believe you, too.
Paul Butler, The Bees’ main vocalist and creative force, looks like an ordinary bloke. So too, for that matter, do the rest of the band. You won’t find �200 ironic mullets anywhere near this band, which is truly a blessing. In fact you get the distinct impression (from their eclectic set of musicians and styles as well as their lack of fashion tragedy) that The Bees are a band’s band, piecing together a patchwork of delightful music whilst never paying more than a few minutes attention to their appearance. Call me old fashioned, but that’s the way I like my bands.
Horsemen, as you may know, is the current single release from the album, following hard on the heels of Wash In The Rain. As with many of the tracks, it already feels absolutely vintage. “It’s a good song for someone”, sings Butler, “But who’s that gonna be?”. If there is any justice in the world, that would be everyone. But there isn’t, so perhaps this could just be between you, me and the dustman.
In the short time I have lived with Free The Bees, I have found myself playing it through in its entirety over and over again (with the slight exception of the mockney track Go Karts, which reminds me of Athlete just a little too much). It’s an LP packed with potential singles. If it was up to me, you’d soon be hearing the hammond organ chorus of instrumental track The Russian, or the graceful, Motown-on-downers-esque I Love You, or maybe even One Glass Of Water, a track that takes the authentic retro approach to such an extent that you’re left with no doubt that The Bees went back in time and broke into Abbey Road Studios to record it. This sounds nothing like major label, nothing at all, and it’s great.
I’d like to take this opportunity to apoligise if the last few paragraphs sounded like one big advert, but that’s the only way it can be with The Bees. They aren’t particularly hyped or trendy, and neither album nor singles will top the charts. It doesn’t matter if you borrow a mate’s copy of Horsemen, or pick up Sunshine Hit Me in the summer sales. Just give The Bees a whirl, it’ll be missing piece in your musical jigsaw puzzle. Free The Bees!