In the winter of 2004, Scouse four-piece The Stands eagerly released their debut album, All Years Leaving. It was greeted with indifference, and ultimately criticised for sounding derivative, and lacking variation in mood and setting of the music. However, The Stands made sure they wedged their foot in the door before it slammed in their face, and won over the likes of Noel Gallagher, and fellow Liverpudlians, The Coral.
So with the release of their second album, Horse Fabulous, The Stands are looking to sway the polarised views of the people, in search of the recognition they perhaps feel they deserve.
It would seem that The Stands have heeded the criticism of their short-of-the-mark debut album, as Horse Fabulous exhibits many faces, and is brimming with character, but sadly, just like at the annual staff party, some characters just aren’t worth listening to. That, however, is definitely not to write off Horse Fabulous.
One of the moods Horse Fabulous exhibits is cheeky, happy go lucky pop. This is best manifested on songs such as Turn The World Around, When The Night Falls In, and Bluer Than Blue. This side of The Stands is completely and utterly lovable, and cheerily worms its way into your heart through perfect pop songcraft.
Along with this, The Stands also showcase their more musically morose tendencies, creating dark, epic songs such as the magnificent Nearer Than Green that stand in stark contrast to the cordiality that surround them. Mountains Blue And The World Through My Window is the best example of the grandiose on Horse Fabulous, a blissed out instrumental that flits and lilts with beautiful string arrangement.
The album is tainted rather significantly however, by its ill attempts at anything relaxed, or down tempo (I Will Journey Home, and Back To You), and instead ends up sounding simply dull and uninteresting, inciting little enthusiasm and providing an unfortunate, and annoying stain on what is otherwise a good album.
An even bigger problem lies with the realisation that for all The Stands’ effort of providing a diverse, and atmospherically varied album, like a sandwich of beans, banana, and broccoli, it just doesn’t quite fit together properly, and sounds somewhat fractured, an issue that is only exacerbated by poor sequencing.
Frontman Howie Payne is hugely redeeming (and frankly brilliant), and bolsters The Stands sound five-fold. His lovable Liverpudlian whining also provides one of two, much needed constants on Horse Fabulous, the other being a noticeably Beatles-esque feel to almost every bar.
Undoubtedly The Stands sound at by far their best and most natural when they’re banging out an instantly likeable, no strings attached pop song. Throughout Horse Fabulous their music is clever, often boasting unusual and interesting chord changes, testament to their quest to silence the critics with some newfound originality. But if anything comes through on Horse Fabulous it is that The Stands need to find their sound, perhaps they paid to much attention to the criticism that met them after All Years Leaving, instead of simply getting on with what they wanted to do, opinion will remain polarised.
On the beautifully rhythmic Bluer Than Blue, Payne sings, “it’s easy to see if you just care to look”. Perhaps with this statement he has summed up as well as anyone can just what the Scouse rockers have to offer. Sadly though, once again The Stands fall just short of the mark.