We should all be familiar with the fairytale story surrounding this band from Northampton by now. They formed in January 2004, and since then have gone on to sign a five album deal with Parlophone, the home of Coldplay and Athlete to name but a few. In the time they’ve been around, they’ve supported many high profile bands, including The Killers and The Tears. To add to this, they were allegedly handpicked by Gang Of Four to play at their reunion shows earlier this year.
All this seemed a bit too good to be true, something that led many to claim that The Departure were nothing more than a clever EMI marketing ploy, aimed at the wallets of the self conscious indie crowd.
But the whole debate is an exercise in futility – to borrow a cliche; it’s all about the music. Marketing ploy or not, they wouldn’t get very far if they didn’t have the tunes – and with Dirty Words, it’s unequivocally clear that they do have the tunes. In fact this is the debut record of the year so far, which has effectively raised the bar by which other bands will be judged in the future.
It’s been a lengthy wait, but they haven’t disappointed in the slightest. It’s all here, crammed into 11 concise pieces of music – there’s your massive U2 choruses that recall the War era, your intelligent lyrics, your unmistakably English vocals that hark back to the height of Britpop where wearing the Union Jack on your sleeve was something to be proud of, and your incisive Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand riffs that lend themselves to the current musical climate. Every track on here could stand out effortlessly as a single – this is a sure sign of a great album.
Things certainly get off to a promising start – Opener Just Like TV is one of the best tracks you’ll hear this year. A song of vast proportions, it epitomises the brilliance of this band. Guitars battle away at each other, drums are bashed into oblivion and lead singer David Jones delivers a gargantuan chorus that has no doubt been designed to fill stadiums in the near future.
This is a trait common to most of the material on here – with few exceptions, these are songs built around large, glorious hooks that will get you singing along with effortless ease. Inevitable future single Arms Around Me, Only Human and the slow burning Time all live up to this venerable billing, and are other highlights on what often feels like a greatest hits collection.
Another thing that is noticeable is how nothing on here sounds at all contrived – every song breathes freely, and sounds all the better for it. In short, they’ve been able to capture their live energy onto CD, which is often the biggest challenge for many bands. Take for example the ultra edgy and frantic Talkshow, the dance friendly All Mapped Out or the juggernaut that is Be My Enemy – in all cases, the guitars are crisp, the bass lines are breathtaking and Jones’ vocals are pitch perfect. They may as well be playing in front of you.
Lyrically, this is also an intriguing listen – beneath the impressive musicianship lie some very shrewd and dark observations. One notable theme is the bleak but realistic picture of relationships and society that Jones often paints – “She takes gentle men like me for a ride” (Talkshow); “All you can think about is what you can get out of this” (Only Human); “All the freaks on the front page, telling little white lies” (Lump In My Throat). This personal touch is certainly something that many people will be able to associate with and adds an extra dimension to already very strong songs.
We’re almost exactly half way through 2005, and we may just have come across the album of the year. With Dirty Words, The Departure have set a landmark in modern rock music and therefore must be heard by everyone. This undoubtedly marks the first chapter in a long and illustrious career. Welcome them into your world.