The Spook School’s third album, Could It Be Different? follows on from 2013’s Dress Up and 2015’s Try To Be Hopeful, albums celebrating queer and trans identities, as potentially their most personal work. Fully self aware, each song is at heart autobiographical, sharing easily relatable moments that also resonate in the broader socio-political context.
The album opens with an ‘off camera’ pep talk and launches into the surprisingly upbeat Still Alive, a song which details leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, regaining freedom and sense of self with the surely crowd-rousing chorus of “Fuck you, I’m still alive”.
Keep In Touch shows how much the band has developed during their near constant touring post the release of Try To Be Hopeful. The dark shimmering guitar drives the song through the lament of a past love, noting the sometimes temporary nature of the most intense relationships and trying to find reason or fault for this loss when there is probably no tangible reason: “Everybody changes, some things stay the same, we still keep in touch but you don’t call my name.” It’s the theme that recurs over the album; that sometimes there just aren’t reasons, there is only picking up and moving on.
Bad Year is the most obviously politically inspired song here. Todd Nye (guitar/vocals) wrote the lyrics on the morning of the shock Brexit referendum result in 2016. It reflects the fear of what might come next and how it’s ok to stop and sit in that desolation for a little while and not know the answers, but as with everything, “tomorrow we’ll wake up and keep on going”.
I Only Dance When I Want To is a real party piece. A riotous indie pop song, its lyrics focus on the things we do and say when we like someone, and the dawning recognition of its ridiculousness, and reclaiming the control of your choices. It’s a spot-on vignette of those awkward house parties we’ve all been to, where you find yourself dancing along with the protagonist as they throw off their jumper and jump on the sofa and are finally themselves – although admittedly when the object of affection is passed out in the bathroom.
If Bad Year is the most political song on the album, Body is the most personal, for all of us. The first half is a shout out to negative body image and learning to love it because it’s yours. The conversation then flips to checking in on your mental health, slowly building to a cathartic crescendo that’s impossible to resist joining in. In contrast High School, the closing track on the album, offers a simple premise of what might have been but, punctuated by a drumming heartbeat, it’s anything but simple. It underlines the assertion that choices have been made, there’s no changing the past, but that it’s ok to look back sometimes before moving forward.
At just 34 minutes, Could It Be Different? rarely takes a breath, propelling us forward, dancing and laughing, towards whatever comes next. The Spook School have a knack of taking some of the darkest moments in life and finding the light. There may not be any certainties in the future, but as long as you’re here, there’s hope.