A couple of years ago, The Broken Family Band‘s front man Steven Adams wrote a funny and perceptive article for The Guardian entitled Don’t Give Up The Day Job. It described how Adams and the rest of the Band combined full-time day jobs with their touring and recording activities. “We’ve kept our jobs, and we haven’t climbed into the back of a transit van, hammering the toilet venues of Britain, hoping for ‘a big break’ or a ‘major label deal’, whatever those things are,” wrote Adams.
The article focused on the financial and practical advantages of maintaining regular work alongside album releases and festival appearances. But surely there are artistic benefits, too. The act of holding down a job maintains a connection with a life that is – for want of a better word – ‘normal’. And that normality ought to provide a fecund stream of inspiration for the lyrics. At the very least, it should spare the listener from songs about the loneliness of life on the road: officially one of The Very Worst Things In Music.
And so it proves on Please And Thank You, the fifth full-length by The Broken Family Band. Sure, many of its songs concern the familiar subject of love, but Adams’ lyrics tend to focus on practical, rather than philosophical, predicaments – lyrics that wouldn’t come easily to a groupie-fatigued professional musician. Cinema Vs House, for instance, finds the protagonist pondering the best venue for a date. Going to the movies, he decides, would mean “two hours without speaking”.
Unfortunately rather too much of Please And Thank You mistakes the unpleasant for the commonplace. Adams clearly thinks there’s room in the pop lexicon for a song about failing to get laid in the town of St Albans. He’s right, but the results (the song entitled, unsurprisingly, St Albans) are as grubby and inconsequential as its subject matter. “Tonight you hit St Albans / With snot hanging out your nose”, it begins, “But you don’t find out ’till the hotel / When you go to change your clothes”. The punchline is delivered bluntly and artlessly: “No-one wants to fuck you in this town”. It’s only a stone’s throw from Bloodhound Gang territory.
The Broken Family Band started life as a country rock act. Their previous album, 2007’s Hello Love, saw the Band moving towards a more generic pop-rock sound. It’s a move which is consolidated by Please And Thank You. Although there’s the occasional Nashvillian twang to Adams’ vocals, there’s a distinct lack of pedal steel or anything else that you’d associate with the genre. But there’s also a distinct lack of solos, keyboards, brass, strings funk or anything much other than routine strummage. Musically, this album never gets beyond the pub.
This is a shame. Previous form has shown The Broken Family Band are capable of much better than this. Adams seems like a bright and funny man. And the fact that this band isn’t a full-time proposition needn’t place a limit on their creative ambition. Although the freedom from pushing for, as Adams puts it, a “big break” might preclude any misguided prog pretensions, it would be nice to see The Broken Family Band attempting something other than the boringly retrograde rock on display in Please And Thank You.