With their debut album North London’s The Bookhouse Boys showcased a sound gathered from so many different reference points it was quite unique. And it was dark. Very, very dark. Love, death, guns, whiskey, religion… no topic was out of bounds as fodder for their bleak lyrics, which weaved around cowboy noir surf guitars and trumpets.
Their second album has got to be a bit more cheerful, right? Think again. This is time the nine-piece is joined by Johnny Flynn on violin, but apart from that it’s very much business as usual. Their over-riding gothic spaghetti western theme still dominates, with Paul Van Oestren steering the Twin Peaks devotees towards a bigger, more expansive sound. The claustrophobic but ambitious noises of their self-titled first effort is loosened up on their second outing. This time around there’s an air of confidence; a bolder, more indulgent sound, no doubt gleaned from the glowing reviews their first album earned.
But the self-conscious, sometimes awkward stylings of the band might have been what made them click, because this more confident approach seems to have been at the expense of the killer songs. There’s no Shoot You Down or I Can’t Help Myself. Everything feels a little calmer, more controlled and calculated.
That’s not to say it’s not worth a listen. The key ingredients are still there; a pinch of Nick Cave, a sprinkle of Calexico and a dash of David Lynch, and Van Oestren’s growling baritone is as sexy as ever. There are still moments when the adrenaline kicks in and the gloves come off; Faded Roses is a girl/boy vocal delight that attempts to recreate Shoot You Down. It doesn’t quite manage it but there’s a new, heavier, stadium rock element that Muse would kill for and works surprisingly well.
Catherine Turner, until now relegated to backing ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ and accompanying Van Oestren when a song requires a splash of the sultry, takes lead on no less than three songs on Tales To Be Told. To Forgive is the best, and a contender for song of the record. A crackling, muffled recording gives way to a regrettable Eurovision-style rock mid-section, which is thankfully quickly forgotten as it eases back into trumpeting western. Turner’s vocal, while subtle and quiet, seizes control; it’s haunting, and as much of a threat as a promise. She comes up trumps again on Lullaby, again offering a few moments of calm reflection amongst the bare knuckled chaos of the likes of Cold Crazy Eyes and Drums For Guns.
It might not make the gob-stopping impact their debut did, but The Bookhouse Boys’ second effort deserves credit for building on their distinctive, twisted sound. Their first album would do more to excite the newcomer, but the world is still a better place for The Bookhouse Boys and Tales To Be Told.