Hounslow tunesmiths The Bluetones were regarded as a poor man’s Stone Roses when they hit the big time in 1996. This was, to me, an unfair comparison given the finely crafted, smaller scale pop from Mark Morriss’s band. They also became one of the fall guys of the Britpop era that seems to be receiving a lot of nostalgic attention lately, and as a result have not repeated the success of their Expecting To Fly debut.
This is a shame, for although 1997s Solomon Bites The Worm had some good moments, it was not as instantly catchy, and the fine songs that made up their third album Science & Nature were not given enough exposure. The appearance of a Best Of last year seemed to sound the death knell for the band, but here they are bouncing back like many of their contemporaries.
Luxembourg sounds like a record put together in a hurry, with its ten tracks done and dusted in just 34 minutes and with a production that is refreshingly direct but rough around the edges. As you’d expect Morriss supplies perky, slightly feminine vocals, but although some of the tunes are memorable they are in shorter supply.
Instead The Bluetones whack up the guitars and introduce a vocoder trick or two, varying the range of colours on offer but sacrificing the subtlety of their guitar hooks and lyrical writing.
Interestingly the lyrics are often downbeat – from the ‘I don’t love you anymore’ of the excellent Going Nowhere to Your No Fun Anymore and Big Problem. Fast Boy is what Morriss calls a “new song about drugs for the new century in the same realm as White Lines and Ebeneezer Goode” but I haven’t spotted that one yet – the ‘don’t tell mother’ couplet near the end makes this a bit too safe and prissy.
The b-side of the Fast Boy single, Liquid Lips, is a tale of male manipulation, sharply observed with a dry wit lacking elsewhere. The best songs lie towards the close of the album, including Code Blue, a more adventurous story about “un-channelled idiocy” in a soldier, impeccably timed with Iraq in mind.
To sum up, this is a bonus for those who thought the band would split up after last year’s Best Of, and sonically it represents a step forward from Science & Nature. Unfortunately they left some of their best tunes behind in an effort to rock out more.