The Subways – Money and Celebrity

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Album Reviews
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Label: Cooking Viynl

Release Date: 18th September 2011

We Brits aren’t very good at recognising our own talent, do we? A multitude of strong bands of all styles fly obliviously under our collective radars whilst the charts stagnate with third-rate US hip-hop and Auto-tuned prima-donna prickheads, and music scenes flounder when all the national TV talent search programmes ever produce are Mariah Carey-lite disposable teens or, in recent times, a slutty chav lowlife who produces music so offensively bad as to make you question whether its a sick joke on the writers designed merely to piss off anyone with ears. The Subways are one such promising UK band to struggle to pierce the gelatinous bubble of the mainstream, having to graft hard to build a fanbase. However, whilst no-one was looking, the Welywn Garden City trio dropped their third album onto an unsuspecting public off the back of little to no promotion at all. Is this a new tactic perhaps? Sneaking up on the mainstream, smacking it over the head with a bit of old pipe before running off with fame and bags of swag? Probably not. In fact, the tone of this album is more akin to staying in the fringes and taking swipes at the more heinous aspects of mainstream culture from afar whilst downing Jaegerbombs and dancing like loons.

So after the immature playfullness of Young for Eternity and the sobering muscle of All Or Nothing, we now have the satirical smirks of Money and Celebrity, a record in which the title pretty much explains all you need to know about it’s content – lyrically anyway. This time around the band eschew the moody and sometimes brutal catharsis of the last record in favour of downright fun and the odd sly jab at pop culture, but while I’m all in favour of bands actually enjoying themselves rather than feeling the need to act all dour to gain kudos from the alternative crowd, oddly this record often suffers for it – some of the rhymes and lines this time around just don’t flow at all, and that’s when they’re not sounding downright awkward and clunky. The awful business with the breakup of his relationship with bassist Charlotte Cooper fired frontman Billy Lunn to his best writings yet last time around, and now he’s pretty much purged all of that out of his system, he seems to struggle for inspiration, seemingly turning to dire midnight reality TV to wind him up into a state of barbed social commentary . ‘Celebrity’ is just a litany of standard celeb-culture clichés,  and there’s only so many times you can ring the ‘I’m bored of work, I wanna have fun’ topic until all you’re left with is forced rhymes (trying to rhyme ‘back and ‘laugh’ based on the pronunciation of ‘laugh’ as ‘laff’ is just desperate) and generic quotes. That’s not to say it’s top-to-bottom terrible, with some of the more cynical songs working better lyrically, but when the words clunk, it’s noticeable more than usual.

 Musically, however, it’s a neat example of a band consolidating it’s sound whilst at the same time taking steps forwards, something the band have always been very good at. The power-packed riffs are honed down into something more sinewy and in line with their exuberant debut, and it’s here where this album gleefully wipes the floor with most of it’s rivals. The happy-go-lucky party-hard attitude is a double-edged sword, because whilst the lyrics aren’t much cop, the raucous power of the music coupled with the cocky swagger of it’s delivery means that in many cases the lyrics don’t really matter that much. The first three tracks are all belters, with the opening one-two of ‘It’s A Party’ and ‘We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time’ both surely destined to become crowd favourites. Elsewhere,  don’t be surprised if some songs take a few repeated listens to sink in; ‘Rumour’ is one such track, with a beautiful flowing chorus vocal melody and lazily heavy riffs. One thing Lunn is incredibly strong at is penning fantastic melodies, hooks and vocal harmonies, and in Cooper he has the perfect vocal to harmonise to. Most of the praise and attention lavished on Cooper is largely based on her appearance, but even disregarding that we surely have one of the most complete rock ‘n’ roll bassists in the UK right now; nifty bass runs, tight-as-fuck rhythm, and gorgeous vocals that shine through both when intertwined with Lunn’s harder tones and when given solo reign, like in the bridge to ‘Like I Love You’, which is steadily growing to be another favourite of mine from the band.

It’s unashamedly pop, which I always quite like to see in a rock band – you try telling most alternative rock bands nowadays that their music sounds ‘poppy’ and you’ll get a reaction akin to pissing on their nan’s grave, but the ‘Ways embrace the big pop hooks and harmonies and celebrate them. They’re also very good at building music to complement the lyrics – ‘Money’ and ‘Popdeath’ both have suitably downbeat musical backings to mirror the lamenting cynicism of the lyric sheets, and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ is full of zeal and tense energy.  However, this does backfire on ‘Down Our Street’, as the happy-clappy-funtimes feel makes the band sound like a forth-rate Hoosiers rip-off trying to write the theme tune to a midday soap opera. I can see what they were trying for, but on it’s own and in the context of the album, it just doesn’t work. Apparantly there were nearly 50 songs written from just after the All Or Nothing sessions, and while it’s honourable of the band not to use any of them and write brand-new stuff, surely there were tunes in that stockpile that were a cut above this? Unless it was a secret Lunn solo concept album about gardening on Mars? Also Stephen Street’s production often blunts the music – particularly on the big rockers, the deadened drums and tethered guitar tones don’t quite do them justice.

Reviewing this album has left me in quite a quandry; the clunky lyrics, occasional bewildering fluctuations in quality and straight jacketed production should give me enough ammunition to mildly crucify it, but overall it’s actually much stronger than the sum of all it’s parts, and it’s at times a superb demonstration of blending pop and rock together in three-minute nuggets of fun. And far from throwing nit-picks at the band or their record, we should celebrate them as they are: a rare breed of band whom cherishes fun without also feeling the need to wear ironic t-shirts or constantly drop pop-culture references, and whom are much better off for it.  It’s immensely enjoyable and impossible not to like – much like the band who created it.

Rating: 83%

Standout Tracks: A Party, We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time, Like I Love You, Rumour.

Words by Adam Johnson

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