Album Reviews

The Zutons – The Big Decider

(Icepop) UK release date: 26 April 2024

Liverpudlian psychedelic pop trio turn towards the dancefloor on first album in 16 years

The Zutons - The Big Decider Just over two decades after they formed The Zutons are back for more. Having seen more peaks and troughs than most in their existence, they are recognised as purveyors of spiky pop with a psychedelic edge, their output capped by one of the noughties’ landmark songs in Valerie. While this is known best for its Amy Winehouse cover it is a fine song in original form, backed up by a number of witty, tuneful songs effortlessly translating to the radio.

Yet success was not kind to The Zutons, with frontman Dave McCabe going through rehab for addiction and the band dispersing to follow a number of disparate projects. McCabe has since become a father, a change that has hardened his resolve.

Lockdown brought the new, streamlined band back into the same orbit, now just a three piece with McCabe, Abi Harding and Sean Payne. The Big Decider marks the reunion officially, enlisting a strong team of Ian Broudie and Nile Rodgers on production duties.

The songs have a depth reflecting McCabe’s experiences, poured into the lyrics of songs like Water, where with the benefit of hindsight he now acknowledges that an allowable solution is to “take the weekend off, some time you’ve gotta stop”.  There are some telling insights on Rise, especially the lyric, “You’ve got to reach out to the old ones that you hold so dear”, and on the philosophical Best Of Me.

Rodgers and Broudie have added more funk to the mix, and the sound that suits the band, especially with Abi Harding brought up in the mix. Always an important presence on saxophone, she now features more prominently on vocals, brightening the sound and deepening the harmonies.

The Big Decider has just nine songs, reflecting the band’s leaner approach, but they show that McCabe’s eye for a memorable song remains. Creeping is excellent, a rock-funk hybrid whose verse suggests a song that Lenny Kravitz might have put his name to. The frontman’s voice has more of a rasp these days, but it suits him on the likes of Disappear, a toe-tapping stomper with a swagger and a rollicking chorus underpinned by the rasp of Harding’s saxophone. The song unexpectedly shifts into a downtempo solo section, where the sun comes out and you can almost feel the wind in the palm trees. Company is a companion to that central section, with another solo and McCabe exhorting that “when I look in your eyes they’re so blue”.

The only criticism for The Zutons would be that their songs are not – yet – quite as memorable as those from the band’s first iteration. The lyrics speak tellingly of life experience, but the tunes don’t quite have the pizzazz to match the singing voice.

Yet their turn towards the dancefloor is expertly marshalled by Rodgers, whose production tweaks are always tasteful – and this return bodes well in the long run. If they can just add the winsome melodies, The Zutons will be right back up where they deserve to be.

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More on The Zutons
The Zutons – The Big Decider
This Music Made Me: The Zutons
The Zutons @ Somerset House, London
The Zutons + Larrikin Love @ Octagon, Sheffield
The Zutons – Tired Of Hanging Around