In a world of ever-diminishing attention spans, it’s a brave band indeed that puts out a debut album containing 29 tracks and running to nearly two hours. It’s something akin to posting up Battleship Potemkin on YouTube in four-minute chunks and hoping that someone will find the energy to watch the whole thing.
In truth, dumping the lot on iTunes and indulging in some judicious playlisting reveals Working For A Nuclear Free City‘s Businessmen & Ghosts not to be the single, sprawling ragbag which it initially appears to be; but two coherent and very different pieces of work weaved obtusely around each other.
Once you’ve extracted it from the rest, Opus One (for want of a better label) clearly demonstrates the band’s North Western roots, and whilst it’s very listenable, it doesn’t really take us anywhere we haven’t been before. The shuffly psychedelia of the The Stone Roses is a clear touchstone for much of it: chiming guitars, loping rhythms and bored (OK, shoegazey) vocals sitting deep in the mix, with touches of The Beatles‘ White Album studio jiggery-pokery.
Baggy is very much alive and well here, and occasionally its roots in Merseybeat are uncovered and resurrected in earnest. Sarah Dreams Of Summer sounds as Scouse as the title suggests: imagine Paul McCartney trotting out guest vocals for The Coral and you’re halfway there. It’s Southern, cheery and not half bad, but the retreading of old ground runs counter to the Working For A Nuclear Free City manifesto: to “get the focus back on creating something innovative.”
The band claim that the businessmen and ghosts of the title, are, respectively the “unit shifters” and “bonus material” on the album. I’m guessing that the businessmen are the accessible, predictable baggy numbers; because the remaining tracks (the ghosts?) are far more challenging, engaging and wilfully uncommercial.
Opus Two looks to space-rock, Krautrock and techno for its influences; melding these into an exciting cacophony which sounds like a logical progression from Neu!‘s 75 album. For instance, the opening salvo of the second disk (Eighty Eight / Donkey/ Get A Fucking Haircut / Innocence) is just great: funky, spacey, insistent techno music played on guitars.
Once you’ve taken the trouble to dig it out, this stuff is like the best bits of Primal Scream, Spiritualized and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, pulled together and then stripped of the mirror-shades rock clichés. It’s simple and repetitive, but full of enough head-spinning loops and randomly spaced bleeps and squawks to hold your attention throughout. Again the vocals are low in the mix, but cut and pasted beyond recognition so that they act like musical elements rather than loved-up platitudes.
At times the pace slows down, and takes us into the Mogwai / Boards Of Canada territory of lush, Southern post-rock; even drawing in some discreet jazzy flourishes and intriguing spoken-word interludes. At its most Southern (Asleep At The Wheel) it even strays into Sigur Rós territory: fluid, sweeping and anthemic, if a little harder-edged.
Value judgements aside, it’s a pretty strange way to put an album together. Some, like me, will favour the ghosts. Others will favour the businessmen. I’m guessing that not many will want to hear both types of tune jumbled in together, or perhaps at all. So then, time to create a personal playlist from the acres of material that Working For A Nuclear Free City have provided us with. If only they could have saved us the trouble.