Sunday, 11 April 2010
What's it like in a few words? The Searchers meet Smithereens whilst Prog meets Pop
The Contrast can always be relied upon to provide the listener with an album chock full of great ideas, signature harmonies and sonic goodies without any particular quirks other than maybe singer/writer David Reid's downbeat vocal and affected pronunciations (moon becomes m'herne for example) which sits suitably at odds with the confectionist appeal of his opulent hooks. Although the pick and mix is changeable from one album to another, with gems dotted here and there, there's no doubt that the highpoint to date was 2005's 'Forgot To Tell The Time' where the band had finally made the record they'd been threatening for the previous five years since their debut in 2000.
Five years on the band has reached somewhat of a career hiatus with only 2007's less distinguished 'Underground Ghosts', a label change to Steve Van Zandt's Wicked Cool, plus an excellent but really (for fans) water treading compilation 'Perfect Disguise' to occupy. What's important now is whether in 2010 their new album builds on the promise of that career high of five years past or are they merely languishing in the skids?
We commence with a laugh, a hollow reedy synth arpeggio echos Rattus Norvegicus IV period Stranglers as an insistent chorus rams the catch right home and seriously connects by the time you give the opener its third airing.
Next, the first and correctly chosen single 'Coming Back to Life' says Blondie so much I can almost hear the Debbie Harry cover haunting us impossibly from 30+ years ago - Underground Ghosts indeed. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album - a Farfisa-ish poppy organ drives a groovy short little mover to its logical conclusion enough to make you want to press the repeat button in an instant.
The third slice 'Take Me Apart' is classic new wavish 2 1/2 minute pop single material, but also takes in an early 60's Gary U.S. Bonds vibe. Beautifully dressed, this has got all the important ingredients in one glorious concoction - a lovely, wobbly short sharp guitar solo, fab bop-bop-shoo-wop backup vocals and great drumming as is customary on all Contrast records. Undoubtedly, this should be the next single.
Elsewhere on our imaginary side 1 'I Am An Alien' betrays some Prog allegiance as the distinct application of the antique theremin apes the same in Uriah Heap's prominent whistling howl in 'Sweet Lorraine', whilst 'Gone Forever' has the Searchers written all over it with guitars all a-jangle and amazingly this screams "This should be the third single!"
Turn your iPod over and with title track 'God of Malfunction' we are right back in Prog land. Harmony guitars open, giving in to riffy lurches which seem to musically check Aqualung era Jethro Tull in a multitude of characteristics - only the flute is missing - even the subject matter is right on target. Nice one.
Moving along, 'Better Than They Seem' visits the Beatlesque psyche period somewhat via XTC and all who sail in her. 'She's A Disaster' sports nice synth/guitar interplay a-la-raga rock and majestic, controlled, crushed drum fills from the incredible Thorin Dixon, who comes on like a caged Keith Moon.
Tussling between the Prog and the Pop 'Thought You Were Strong' emerges as a late favourite all riff heavy but more light alloy than heavy metal - thankfully!
I've not commented on David Reid's lyrical content - I may be doing him a disservice here but I think he'd be the first to admit that he uses language for its sound and effect rather than its meaning, so I've long since tried to figure out what he might be trying to say to us - if anything.
However, the grand finale piece 'False Admission' grabbed my ear first time around more for a little lyrical trick before the music gripped on subsequent plays. We start with a nice dragging walking pace - an attractive guitar figure introduces the song and each verse. Impending drama is hinted as the song grows into moderate movie epic proportions, returns to walking pace and peters out to subdued feedback. As you begin to appreciate the song construction overall the lyrical trick staged around the title which rhymes 'False Admission' with both 'badly written..' pause and then also 'fiction' becomes less apparent, as do the lyrics themselves.
In my introduction I posed the question of whether the band was hitting greater highs or merely resting on past glories. After 10 years and 6 albums and little commercial feedback, it must get more and more arduous to keep pulling rabbits from hats. Well, I'm glad to report that the break, the move to a new label and the superb CinemaScope production of strong advocate and mentor Little Steven have made a difference. It's very much evident that on this album the Contrast's strengths have been expanded, highlighted and squarely aimed into a record which will prove to be their most polished, accessible, and best yet.
Finally, there's gonna have to be a hundred or so better albums this year for 'God of Malfunction' not to end up on the Powerpop Review Best of 2010. You owe it to yourself to invest and give this hardworking band a well deserved place in the first division. Get 'God of Malfunction' - Out this Tuesday 13th April
Cover: The album cover particularly recalls the prog sleeves of Roger Dean with its spindly long legged elephants not a million miles from their large eared flying cousins which adorned Osibisa's first 2 or 3 albums from the early 70's. Perhaps David Reid harbors some deep rooted Prog pretensions from his youth as do these two writers?
In our reviews I = We - where we basically both listen, inwardly digest, write separate reviews, then merge the two in the first person.
Hear the first single 'Coming Back To Life' on the band's own website.
God of Malfunction - Wicked Cool Records 2010
Perfect Disguise:Introducing the Contrast - Wicked Cool Records 2007
Underground Ghosts - Rainbow Quartz Records 2007
Forget to Tell the Time - Rainbow Quartz Records 2005
Fade Back In - Rainbow Quartz Records 2004
Wireless Days - Rainbow Quartz Records 2002
Mystery #1 - Rainbow Quartz Records 2000