Turin Brakes, the South London duo who updated Simon & Garfunkel‘s guitars and harmonies formula for the 21st century, now release their third studio album, JackInABox. The packaging, rather cunningly, is a cardboard box in which the CD is spring-loaded to pop out like the proverbial Jack, catching the recipient unawares. Cunning it may be, but the practical in me wonders how I will get the CD out when the mechanism fails…
The overall feel of JackInABox is summery and light, and the album flows quickly and smoothly from song to song (apparently due to a decision to ditch any song which they couldn’t get right in a couple of takes).
There are songs strongly reminiscent of debut album The Optimist LP, notably Red Moon and Building Wraps Round Me, and and whilst they still dabble in electronica on Come And Go and Asleep With The Fireflies, gone are the LA studio and big name producer of Ether Song. This one was solely a Turin Brakes affair – in Brixton no less.
Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian have always had an eye for a well-played, good tune. My first hearing of any Turin Brakes song was years ago when two girls on a radio competition phone-in covered Underdog (Save Me) – and on the basis of their rendition I bought The Optimist LP because the quality of Turin Brakes’ songwriting still managed to shine through. If anything, the lads appear to have honed their craft in the intervening years, playing to their obvious musical strengths of acoustic guitar and voice but improving their lyrics and mixing up their style a little.
Many of the tracks still involve the close harmonies and finger-picking guitars which made their name, but the title track, for instance, is a more classic indie-pop song with electric guitars and drums driving the usual catchy chorus. Asleep With The Fireflies has a jazz-funk feel a la Jamiroquai, Last Clown has a wandering piano solo and Come And Go has a jazz swing beat laid down by brushes on snare drum.
The lyrics seem less obscure than previously, and there are some which tug the heart strings, such as in Road To Nowhere: “I’m only nine, I’m already feeling the strain / It seems everyone’s dying or curling up in pain.”
Meanwhile, the combination of the lyrics themselves and how they’re sung on Above The Clouds (“When all is said and done… I will love you / When all is said and done… I’ll still love you”) approaches the heights reached by the “I love you” in Simon & Garfunkel’s seminal For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her. Unfortunately the effect in this case is somewhat marred by what sounds like a chirruping wooden flute between each line.
New single Fishing For A Dream is a good introduction to the album as a whole, demonstrating the lightness of touch with swirls of rhythms and melodies, and the can’t-get-it-out-of-your head (if slightly lacking lyrically) chorus of “doo doo doo doo doo…” Better still is opener They Can’t Buy The Sunshine, which has the same musical vibe, but with Turin Brakes’ equivalent of a vitriolic rant – against the unnamed “they” who amongst other things “burned down churches” and “sold our very souls”.
There are undoubtedly weak spots on the album, with wooden flute already mentioned, a rather cheesy feel to Asleep With The Fireflies and the over-extended instrumental section in Come And Go. However, I think this is going to be an album I come back to again and again – so I will just have to hope that that JackInABox CD mechanism is going to last.