I’ve never found there to be much of a correlation between the length of an album and it’s quality. If anything a meandering album is often a sign of miscalculated confidence or an inability to cull.
This is perhaps the shortest of the Lucksmiths albums, with only ten tracks over 27 minutes. And it’s songs weren’t even conceived or recorded in an album setting (collecting as it does songs from singles, b-sides, and a couple of compilations), yet it is close to their strongest release thus far.
Gone are all allusions to literature and history, with the songwriting focused on the everyday, on seemingly effortless wordplay, and on a diversity of song structures (yet devoid of too much noodling).
The album opens with a classic exercise in all the above-mentioned arts, with the punny title Untidy Towns:
What follows are tales of depressed friends (Pin Cushion), in depressing jobs (Edward, Sandwich Hand), who leave housemates hungry (The Art of Cooking For Two), but who have excellent driving skills (A Great Parker).
I’ve always delighted in the rambunctiousness of Beer Nut, and imagine being scribbled from within a cracking hangover.
I enjoy this album as a rainy afternoon listen (and have enjoyed seeing some snowflakes out my window during this review).
File under: Tell your friends
If ‘...Bicycle Case‘ and ‘What Bird…‘ were the albums where the Lucksmiths seemed a little over-involved in British history, then this album could be seen as the album where the band graduated to more contemporary content.
Sure, there are still a book-ish track (World Encyclopedia Of Twentieth Century Murder), and one imagining of British prison widows (Train Robbers’ Wives), but the rest are wonderfully ensconced in the inner urban milieu.
These are songs about parks (Under the Rotunda), entendre (Little Athletics), and disappointing incompatibilities (Punchlines) – each strong tracks that are infectious in a more subtle and longlasting fashion than much of the band’s more direct earlier work.
This is also an album with two standout travelling songs – both more bittersweet than is typical for this topic. Caravanna captures the melancholy of craving change and movement, but also drifting apart:
Guess How Much I love You is an unembarassed ode to the travails of separation with some great imagery and aching sentiments.
The album is diluted by a couple of weaker tracks that prompt me to skip most times (Up, Columns of Steam), but still stands as one of their strongest efforts.
File under: A Good Kind of Tweenessness
Loyal readers, you might have noticed a lull in proceedings over the past week or so. I am currently staying in New York (with sporadic commutes down to Philadelphia). Our apartment here doesn’t have a newfangled stereo that’ll play my iTunes, so the albums currently in the queue are only heard when I don my headphones.
As such, you should lower your expectations regarding frequency of reviews. I suspect I might only get to one a week for the next 3 months!
On a more positive front, I am enjoying new venues and new gigs to see. Last night’s show featuring Wild Flag (featuring two members of Sleater Kinney), Superchunk and Bright Eyes at Radio City Music Hall was superb.
I’m breaking up the (very long) run of Lucksmiths albums with my usual ‘back catalogue’ reviews.
Here’s another CD from my generous reader/friend Andy.
I presume he gifted me this in recollection that I once taped (!) a copy of this off his vinyl (!) version.
For an album I wouldn’t have heard in more than twenty years, this sounded scarily familiar.
For the young’uns out there unfamiliar with TTD, this skinny bloke burst onto the scene with the hubris of James Brown and on overt love for 60s soul/funk.
He has a falsetto that is surprisingly masculine and a good pop ear. He does focus a little too much on the affectation and histrionics side of this genre (i.e. he often seems like his play-acting rather than truly soulful, but who am I to judge?).
I prefer TTD when he get’s up on his toes and funky. So Dance Little Sister and the middle ground of Wishing Well outrank the soppier Sign Your Name for me:
It turns out TTD has gone all Prince-like and changed his name (to Sananda Maitreya), which is a bit of a coincidence, in that I once declared my DJ name to be Terence Trent T’Owling…It never caught on.
File under: You call that hard?
I distinctly remember my excitement at the release of this 3rd full-lengther from the Luckas.
This may well have been the peak of my enthusiasm for this band as a live outing, and I suspect most of the tracks were pretty familiar to me by the time I heard them on here.
As such, often the quirkier and difficult-to-play-live tracks tended to get the most attention.
On here that was probably the sway-worthy Snug, the blink-and-you-miss-it Jennifer Jason, and the silly Off With His Cardigan.
In the clear light of hindsight, it is the big inner suburban indiepop gems that shine now.
Track after track on here could form the soundtrack for a series of montages in some low-budget, slacker fest. A Housewarming, a tramride (Day in the City) , some park shenanigans (Frisbee), an airport scene (Twenty Two), and then some Mini golf (Putt Putt), it’s all there for the taking:
This felt like a time when the band would never run out of ideas. I introduced a variety of folks to this band over the time, and most came away smiling at tales of librarians (“with the heart of Danielle Steel“), and sad bastards who sit around all day in Carlton pubs (Macintyre).
File under: Worth at least two in the bush
In between their debut and this second album, The Lucksmiths released a fantastic EP titled Boondoggle.
It saw their sound leap into some crystal clear poppy wonderland. That lesson wasn’t forgotten here, but added to the mix was a big dose of history.
The trio get all olde skool with a Thomas Hardy-inspired tale of public hangings (with a nifty waltz backing, and recorder solo no less!), some Hiroshima action, more aviator action, a Roald Dahl paean (William and Mary) and the thorny old Tichbourne Claimant.
Alongside these history/lit lessons are some cinematic (and crime) allusions in the noir Detective Agency and the jaunty Jewel Thieves (where the band harmonise as only they can’t):
While these are all entertaining diversions well executed, it is the modern-day, snapshot of life tunes which are the most endearing and enduring.
I am constantly drawn to the preciousness of Two Storeys, the poignancy of the defiant mother-to-be in From Here to Maternity, the optimism of Motorscooter and the intimacy of Mezzanine.
As you can see this is an album I know back to front, and it’s never worn out its welcome with all these contrasts and intrigues.
File under: A solution to life’s many mysteries