Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Losing their edge

High time for a quick album round-up - and if people who say "I've been into them for ages and, of course, they're not as good now as they used to be..." irritate you, then you'd best look away now...

Sons & Daughters - This Gift

Personally, I blame Bernard Butler. For Brett Anderson's rise to stardom, for Britpop, for global warming, for Newcastle Utd's current plight, for the nauseous sensation you get when you bang your elbow hard... But specifically, in the context of this post, for the fact that the new Sons & Daughters album - their second full-length offering - sounds so lame and limp.

But, to grit my teeth and be fair to Butler for just a moment, you do have to wonder quite how much of that limpness is down to the former Suede guitarist's production, and how much is simply down to the quality of the songs themselves? You can't polish a turd, as the old adage goes - though the polish Butler's slathered on everything is most unwelcome anyway.

What's beyond doubt is that the likes of 'Flags' and 'Iodine' are bemusingly bloodless. The Glaswegians used to be the rattling, abrasive soundtrack to a vicious bar brawl somewhere between their home town and the American Wild West, but now even a song bearing the title 'Split Lips' simpers rather than snarls. And that's not to mention 'Chains', which sounds like something from fucking 'Grease'. This, I assure you, is emphatically not a good thing.

As Sons & Daughters have taken aim more squarely at the mainstream, their sharper edges have - perhaps inevitably - become blunted. First single 'Gilt Complex' is one of the few in which their old self is recognisable, but in truth the poppiest songs are actually the best. If that's ultimately the route they take from here, then they'll soon be a completely different band to the one that wowed me and others with Love The Cup four years ago - and despite the merits of the breezy 'Darling' and 'The Nest', inspired by Ken Loach's 'Cathy Come Home', that's a shame, not least because they showed as recently as last year's Ballads Of The Book compilation that they were still capable of unsettling and malevolent marvellousness in the form of 'The War On Love Song', co-written with A. L. Kennedy.

The Duke Spirit - Neptune

To a certain extent, for Sons & Daughters above, read The Duke Spirit. The quintet's debut LP Cuts Across The Land possessed a rough if naive charm, its successor represents a step (if not an outright stride) towards the centre ground and Chartsville, and they too have secured the services of a name producer to help them on the way.

Thankfully, though, Neptune is a good deal stronger and more successful than This Gift, not least because the producer in question is Queens Of The Stone Age associate and Master Of Reality Chris Goss rather than a wet lettuce from Suede. No doubt that's partly why, where Sons & Daughters sound almost completely toothless, The Duke Spirit still retain plenty of bite - witness the spiky and bitter 'Send A Little Love Token' and 'Neptune's Call', whose guitars are ripped straight from QOTSA's Songs For The Deaf. Evidently there's still a fire in their collective bellies that hasn't been doused by mainstream ambition.

The album's most unashamedly pop moment is 'My Sunken Treasure', which - like the single 'The Step And The Walk' and woozily sensuous ballads 'Wooden Heart' and 'Sovereign' - works largely thanks to Liela Moss's seductively swooning sex kitten vocals. For me, though, 'This Ship Was Built To Last' is the definite highlight - you couldn't resist being swept off and dragged under by its surging undertow even if you wanted to.

* * * * *

That'll have to do for tonight, other than to point you in the direction of my first impressions of both albums as gleaned from the experience of seeing Sons & Daughters and The Duke Spirit live towards the tail end of last year. Thoughts on Dead Meadow's Old Growth and Los Campesinos!' Hold On Now, Youngster next time...


mike said...

Yes, I quite agree - the new(ish) Sons & Daughters album is a boring dilution of a once promising band. Perhaps Bernard Butler was saving his best work for Duffy?!!?!!

Del said...

Can't argue with your reactions on either of these. I perservered with the Sons & Daughters album, but agree that the production is horrible. Over compressed and so shiny, any emotion just seems to slide off it. Like the Duke Spirit one lots more. Seeing them on Tuesday, will let you know what I think.

Ben said...

Much as I want to pin all the blame on Butler, I do think the band are partly culpable. It does have its moments (in addition to the songs I mentioned, 'The Bell' and 'Goodbye Service' are decent) but for the most part it's very meh.

Neptune disappointed me when I first heard it, too, but it's grown on me much more than This Gift.

Incidentally, if you haven't heard 'The War On Love Song', you should - much more like the Sons & Daughters of old. Some other good stuff on that Ballads Of The Book compilation too, including great collaborations featuring Malcolm Middleton and Emma Pollock (though there is also a bit too much slightly uninspiring folk, personally speaking).

Anonymous said...

On a wierd crossover of both albums - duke spirit's latest single "the step and the walk" sounds exactly like duffy! it's as if some one said she is too mainstream for the indie kids - lets give her a skinny indie guys backing band and a rock star swagger and the'll all buy it!" it's a shame it's gone that way. it could have been so much better!