Remember The Bluetones? Arising from the fag ends of the Britpop explosion in the mid-’90s, their melodic, jangly-guitar sound took their debut album Expecting To Fly straight to Number 1 in 1996.
Two years later Return To The Last Chance Saloon was a successful indie-twist on American roots music. But by their disappointingly thin third album Science And Nature in 2000 it looked as though the band had lost their way, a suspicion confirmed by the forgettable Luxembourg – an album as bland as the country of its title. Surely that was their last chance saloon?
But, no, three years on The Bluetones are back – though truth be told they haven’t really been away as they’ve always been regular giggers. By self-styling their album The Bluetones, and by reuniting with Hugh Jones who produced their first two acclaimed albums, the band are evidently trying to recapture their initial impetus ten years after. Sadly, although the sound is good, the songs are just not strong enough.
The opening track Surrendered, about the release that comes with giving up your freedom to your lover (“It’s irresistible to live beneath your thumb”), contrasts nicely with the next song, Baby, Back Up, a plea for breathing space (“Enough is enough/You’re freakin’ me out/ Not into that stuff”), though neither are very interesting musically. Hope And Jump is a gentle love song which makes little impact. But Head On A Spike is the strongest song on the album – an insistent, edgy tune with a quiet sense of desperation somewhere near The Bluetones at their best, while the more vaguely optimistic The King of Outer Space is pleasantly undemanding.
Thank You, Not Today is the band at its most blithe, and is notable only for its rhyme “Say you’ve done a Kerouac/Say you’re not coming back”. The lacklustre single My Neighbour’s House ends with the rather trite lines, “If my neighbour cannot be my friend/Then we’re both gonna burn in the end”. Fade In/Fade Out has a beautiful cello accompaniment, The Last Song But One frankly just passed me by, but the final track Wasn’t I Right About You, with its jaunty trumpet solo, ends the album on an upbeat note.
Mark Morriss’s vocals still resonate sweetly enough, Adam Devlin’s guitar chimes nicely and the hooks remain fairly catchy, but there is little to get very excited about here. The Bluetones were never exactly cutting edge of course but the ‘Stone Roses-lite’ label they were tagged with was unfair – their dreamy pyschedelic melodies and laid-back vocal harmonies were a joy to listen to. Now the style is intact but there’s little substance behind it – and at only 36 minutes duration the new album doesn’t exactly weigh in very heavy.
To pun horribly on one of The Bluetones’ finest early singles, this album is a slight return. The overall impression is that the band is trying to turn the clock back but it feels as if they are merely going through the motions. They are in danger of entering that aural no man’s land, easy listening. Surely it’s time to move on and do something else, boys?