Thursday, December 24, 2020

Club classics

I've listened to pitifully little new music in 2020 for various reasons (see yesterday's post) so don't feel as though I've got a sufficient evidence base from which to put together end-of-year lists that would mean much. However, that's not going to stop me from naming my favourite album of those I've heard - and, fittingly enough, it's the self-titled debut from the very last act I saw live before coronavirus intervened.

Rarely can a band have been so evidently shaped by the geographical location of their birthplace than Working Men's Club. Todmorden is equidistant from Manchester and Yorkshire, and they're a perfect confluence of influences: Mark E Smith vocals, post-punk gloom, dead-eyed Steel City disco, Hacienda/Factory Records graphics, a good dose of Northern grit and punch.

Every song is a killer - from the thumping 80s acid house of opener 'Valleys', a reminder that rave culture is alive and well in the sticks; through 'White Rooms And People', with its soaring synth-pop chorus, and 'Be My Guest', which throbs with menace like The Big Pink backed into a corner; to the blissfully expansive motorik shoegaze of 'Angel'. It's essentially everything Primal Scream have ever tried to do, all in a single album, and done better.

If you were being extremely cynical, you might suggest that the album is a retrogressive confection designed to push all the buttons of middle-aged music writers (hello!), and as such was always likely to generate a lot of frothing comment and column inches. And yet it's all so well executed that Working Men's Club is that rarest of things: a much-trumpeted record that not only fully deserves the hype but actually exceeds it.

Much has been made of the fact that Working Men's Club have grown up in public, having signed to Heavenly at a precious age, and the band effectively made the dramatic transformation from Joy Division to New Order before even releasing a record. There's more growing to come, for sure, but given that thus far they've been master of all trades, not merely jack, whatever direction they choose to take next seems guaranteed to excite.

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