Up, Guards And At ‘Em is the first record from The Pigeon Detectives in three years, and following the intensity of 2007-2008, the break’s done them good. Emergency felt like a flop so soon after Wait For Me, and 2011 is their chance to win their doubters round, both with the new record and a slot on the main stage at Reading and Leeds. The latest effort is a progression, in that it’s not straightforwardly another collection of variations on Take Her Back, but it’s nothing spectacular either.
First track She Wants Me, streamed to fans through the band’s website, is a step away from the rabble rousing, tinnies-at-dawn rioting we’re used to, and it’s nice to hear the album start on a more laid-back note. The introduction of synths is perhaps marred by a slight incompetence in playing them, but it’s a breath of fresh air all the same.
So, too, with closing number I Don’t Know You. Distorted vocals and listless, moping guitar creates a reflective tone that’s more than a little Alex Turner. Yet once again, inexplicable musical decisions ensure that the reaction is more surprise than appreciation. Jimmi Naylor’s percussion drops away at bizarre intervals, and it’s difficult to see what conceptual feat is being pulled off by the strange recession of fairground music to fade-out.
The misfiring is small but noticeable. Turn Out The Lights sees Matt Bowman at his least convincing emotionally. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to come around here” never sounded so noncommittal. Elsewhere, the guitar solo on Lost is slightly off-kilter. That said, the track is just about reined in for an echoing wall of a chorus, and Bowman remains in control.
It’s not all doom and gloom – there’s a reason the label gave them a third shot. What Can I Say? makes good use of some solid marching drums in the background to slowly build up from shoegazer to belter, while Bowman’s offbeat wordplay is pretty effective. Need To Know This has a decent sing-along riff, and Through The Floor is an indie floor-filler as good as anything the lads from Leeds have put out in the past.
The problem is that, despite the occasional foray into the unknown, too much of the new record is too faithful to that previous material. The sexual frustration of Done In Secret (“You can put my back against the wall/ But you won’t take me outside, what are you waiting for?”) shows they haven’t quite shaken off the teenage feel. Meanwhile, the chorus to What You Gonna Do? is paradigmatic for the rest of the album. The thing is, it sounds an awful lot like any other Pigeon Detectives chorus, complete with hyperactively racing, high-pitched guitar running up and down a scale while Bowman chants “What you gonna do when they’re coming after you?” It’ll rouse the rabble alright, but whether it’ll leave a lasting impression on them is another question entirely.
Up, Guards And At ‘Em isn’t a dreadful album, but when that’s the extent of the praise it merits, questions need to be asked. There are one or two new ventures into the unknown, but by and large, The Pigeon Detectives haven’t made enough progression from Emergency. This is music to jump, chant and neck cider to, which is why their festival dates this summer may well be worth watching. As a studio album though, it’s really nothing special.