Birmingham band The Twang have been fighting a losing battle for years now. Once hyped as the next big thing, they were quickly thrown on the indie scrapheap after the release of their debut Love It When I Feel Like This in 2007. As they have come to realise with subsequent releases, it is almost impossible for a band to come back into favour once they have been dismissed. Yet, The Twang have admirably continued to fight their own cause.
The band’s third LP, 10:20, was one of their best efforts to date, but as with their second release Jewellery Quarter, it failed to reignite their career and received mixed reviews. One of the most significant problems with both records was the lack of truly memorable tunes, something that was probably accelerated by The Twang’s move away from the lad rock that dominated their debut record.
That dilution of their early sound has continued on their new album, Neontwang, which is interestingly titled after the name the band had when they were first formed by lead singer Phil Etheridge and bassist Jon Watkin. But while the name conjures up memories of when they started out, Neontwang sees The Twang become almost unrecognisable from the band that released their first record.
From the outset, the album is quite different from anything the band has done before. Opener City Lights is a trippy beginning to proceedings, with ominous synths and a sketchy beat providing the basis for Etheridge’s distorted vocal, as he sings: “Not much to shout about around here/ intimidation, sadness and fear.” The song has a lot in common with the Baggy scene – a comparison regularly made when the band first made a name for themselves – but its slow, atmospheric composition feels completely out of kilter with their previous material.
The strong start is continued with Larry Lizard, which picks the pace up with a thrilling guitar riff and a rumbling beat, before the infectious chorus kicks in. “We don’t talk about it/ don’t even think about it/ but he’s lost without it/ and he don’t know what to do without it,” sings Etheridge. It’s followed by the equally catchy New Love, which features another undeniably catchy hook, one that really sets off the melodic, carefree chorus.
It’s clear from the early exchanges of Neontwang that The Twang are not taking themselves nearly as seriously as they have done previously, resulting in an album that is actually quite fun to listen to. Sucker For The Sun is another highlight, beginning with an inconspicuous bassline and crashing beat before quickly developing into an anthemic sing-a-long, while Almost Anything provides further proof of the band’s renewed confidence.
While the first half of the record is arguably the best The Twang have ever sounded – assisted by the skillful production of Rory Attwell (Palma Violets, Big Deal, Veronica Falls) – there are some forgettable moments towards the end of Neontwang. Happy Families is the most obvious dud, with a rather grating, repetitive chorus over a chaotic guitar riff. Elsewhere, Medicine is a misjudged attempt at grandeur that falls completely flat, while Bigger Than You is a perfectly nice, but slightly dull, ballad.
Neontwang is a successful comeback from a band that have been written off more times than they would care to remember. It may not be a reinvention quite on the same scale as Matthew McConaughey – and it probably won’t convince the doubters – but, against all the odds, the record is a reminder of why The Twang were thrust into the limelight seven years ago. There is life in them yet.