It’s been eight years since The Enemy’s storming number one debut album We’ll Live And Die In These Towns. Since then the Coventry trio has failed either to match the Jam-like punky anger and sharp social commentary of that album, or to develop in any other interesting musical direction.
The pretty awful follow-up Music For The People strove for a more classic rock sound but ended up bloated and bombastic, while after a four-year hiatus the more compact Streets In The Sky tried to return to their gritty urban roots with disappointingly tame results. And now the band’s fourth offering It’s Automatic also falls flat.
This Gethin Pearson-produced album has a more polished pop sound, swirling with synths and saturated with reverb, which does the band no favours, taking away the grit that is their strength. Though they were never fashionable, and were later mocked for their over-inflation from lad rock to pomp rock, The Enemy at their best did have a real musical and lyrical bite. Now they have lost that edge without finding anything else to replace it. It’s Automatic is as bland as margarine and subtle as a sledgehammer.
Lead singer Tom Clarke – a pint-sized front man with a big voice – tries to vary his somewhat shouty singing style with a softer approach but loses his passion, while concentrating more on floaty keyboards than punchy guitar. He is backed by Andy Hopkins’s thudding bass and Liam Watts’s crashing drums, to produce a big, echoing sound without much substance to it that quickly becomes turgidly monotonous. Meanwhile, penetrating socio-political lyrics have given way to vague, sentimental exhortations about steadfast love and commitment.
The opening track and lead single Don’t Let Nothing Get In Your Way may be a banner-waving would-be anthem with a simplistic message of defiant determination – “You gotta fight for the ones you love” – but it does power along with a heartfelt conviction.
Automatic, on the other hand, is a rather crass song about how love will instinctively keep on springing up: “When you held my hand / It was love at first touch.” And the longing for spiritual refreshment in To The Waterfall and love to end loneliness in Everybody Needs Someone merely seem wishy-washy sentiment.
In Melody Clarke’s strained vocals struggle to keep up with the swelling synths, as the melody-believer proclaims “I don’t need no magazine to tell me what I feel / I don’t need no cheap TV to tell me what’s real”. So Much Love yearns with unrequited love – “You’re the forbidden fruit / You’re the one I can’t have” – while Superhero revels in the carefree sensation of driving along the highway – “I’m going nowhere fast / But I’ve got nowhere to be” – but neither makes much of an impact.
In What’s A Boy To Do dark thoughts are relieved by the light of hope, ending with Charlie Chaplin’s impassioned plea for universal brotherhood at the end of The Great Dictator: “We want to live by each other’s happiness not by each other’s misery.” With its booming music and lyrics written all in caps, it mercifully brings this overblown album to an end.