Following their award-winning debut We’ll Live And Die In These Towns in 2007, The Enemy return with something completely different for their second album. Full marks for not resting on their laurels, but sadly in their efforts to evolve the Coventry trio have gone and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Music For The People is a major letdown.
The patronizingly pompous title reflects the album’s overblown and stodgy musical contents. Whereas the first album featured a whole raft of memorably spiky songs about urban dystopia, full of aggressive energy and punky passion, this one may still have some strong melodies and lucid lyrics but the sharp focus has been dissipated into a big booming sound inside which the songs rattle hollowly.
Frontman Tom Clarke has talked about reverting to a pre-digital ‘back to basics’ approach to recording, which is fine in theory, but the material here is just not good enough. Mike Crossey’s turgid, string-rich production has the feel of early ’70s classic rock, and the tracks seem to be straining self-importantly for anthemic status. Even the cover artwork is reminiscent of Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side Of The Moon.
Some of the songs have their moments but overall they tend to be derivative. The bombastic opener, the aptly named Elephant Song, is a heavy-handed pastiche of Led Zeppelin: starting with a slow rumble, it clunkily builds up into a noisy stampede of empty power chords which trample you underfoot before rolling into the distance.
The first single No Time For Tears, meanwhile, may have been inspired by a fight Clarke had with a nightclub bouncer but the dead-end town lyrics – “This is England on a Saturday night/This is a nation’s soul” – is yet another slice of Jam-like social disaffection which The Enemy have surely paid homage to enough by now, while the backing vocal harmonies sound similar to those in Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica.
The anti-American sentiments expressed in 51st State (already a New Model Army song title) are well phrased but hardly original – “where the people have no voice/We’ve been looking for a leader/But we never had a choice – while musically it reminds one of The Clash in their Sandinista phase, with Clarke doing a Strummer-like snarl.
Sing When You’re In Love offers a more soulful, romantic slant on the “concrete jungle” but Last Goodbye wallows in string-laden self-pity – “I’m leaving this world behind” – � la The Verve. The proletarian Nation of Checkout Girls borrows Pulp‘s Common People riff without unfortunately having any of Jarvis Cocker‘s deliciously ironic humour, though Be Somebody does contain some welcome attempt at satire – “No one ever gives you anything for free/Unless you start sleeping with the BBC”.
Don’t Break the Red Tape has a great rousing, chant-like chorus but riffs heavily from The Clash‘s London Calling. Keep Losing is a touching power ballad with a gospel feel to it. But the leaden, class-conscious Silver Spoon is unsubtle both lyrically and musically. A short, unnamed ‘hidden’ track for voice and piano is an embarrassing effort to ape The Beatles‘ Let It Be.
This album is not all bad – there are some pungent lyrics and soaring melodies – but it over-reaches with its attempted grandiosity. Clarke’s voice literally seems to be over-strained, while his going-through-the motions guitar playing, Andy Hopkins’s thudding bass and Liam Watts’s crashing drums become monotonous. Clarke is a genuinely talented songwriter, if rather earnest in his intentions, but in Music for The People he and his mates seem to have lost the plot.