Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rewarding Loyalty

The Broken Family Band - Please and Thank You (Cooking Vinyl, 2009)

Whilst I derived great enjoyment from the softening of Steven Adams’ lacerating heart on ‘Hello Love’, I suspect a large part of the Broken Family Band’s loyal following will be delighted to hear him return to caustic nastiness on ‘Please and Thank You’, their first release for Cooking Vinyl. Adams claims the record is ostensibly about ‘being nice to people’. In fact, it’s rather more about his difficulty and reluctance in doing so. What a delicious platter of unforgiving misanthropy this is, balanced only by a generous side dish of loveless lust. This torrid stuff is a far cry from the joyous celebration of intercourse on ‘Leaps’.

Perhaps appropriately, it’s all accompanied by the band’s most aggressive and least subtle music to date, with proceedings dominated by beefy drums and chugging guitars. It’s a far cry from the country twang of their earliest recordings but it will be more familiar to listeners who first tuned in with the punky blast of ‘Balls’. The group are clearly more confident as musicians now, with Mickey Roman’s drumming becoming ever more prominent (he seems to have thrown away the brushes in the same way that R.E.M.’s Peter Buck once chucked his mandolin), allowing the band to develop a tautness and precision that has sometimes been absent in their more endearingly wayward moments.

Whether the actual musical ideas to which this musicianship is applied are expanding at the same rate is more debatable. Chords are often milked for all they are worth here, and some of the melodies and guitar lines seem over-familiar now. ‘Borrowed Time’ seems like a slightly sped-up rehash of ‘Don’t Change Your Mind’, whilst ‘The Girls In This Town’ is basically a heavier rewrite of ‘Michelle’. Elsewhere, they are beginning to betray the influence of some of their contemporaries. ‘Mimi’ (the only point at which the drums are brushed) reminds me a little of the harmonic and melodic insistence of AC Newman.

I’m not sure any of this diminishes the quality of the album that much though, given how much there is to enjoy here. In some ways the group’s determination and consistency is admirable – they’ve developed a prolific work rate that puts some of the more high profile ‘indie’ acts to shame. Also, my reviews of some Broken Family Band albums, particularly ‘Welcome Home, Loser’ have focused on their marginal failure to capture the vigour and energy of their live shows on disc. No such problem here – the production succeeds in being crisp and pristine without muting the band’s punchy dynamic.

As a result, there’s a real urgency and immediacy to this set. ‘Don’t Bury Us’ and ‘Stay Friendly’ provide a particularly hard-hitting double whammy in the middle of the album. The opening ‘Please Yourself’ might be the most furious and unrelenting punch they’ve yet delivered. There are some moments which hint that the group have always harboured a classic rock fetish (‘Son of the Man’, that pesky cowbell on ‘The Girls In This Town’), but even this can’t undermine the sense of a band becoming more muscular whilst also enjoying themselves tremendously.

Adams really is vicious for most of this album. His cruelty reaches a savage apogee on ‘St. Albans’, which manages to deride the Hertfordshire town and its central character with merciless bile (‘no-one wants to f*ck you in this town’). Sometimes it’s all rather well directed, such as on the opening ‘Please Yourself’, which rightfully attacks self-obsessed bores (‘You walk over here in a straight line/With cocaine in your moo-starsh and waste my time!’). ‘Borrowed Time’ crudely defies the ageing process (‘in the old people’s home, I will have you on the stairlift’), whilst the brilliant ‘Cinema Vs. House’ turns the decision over where to go on a date into an agonising deal-breaker (‘we could go to the cinema, but that’s two hours without speaking!’).

Adams and his bandmates continue to build their following through consistency, quality and good old fashioned word of mouth. Ten years ago, few could have predicted that Cambridge indie heroes Hoffman would morph into a band that would make five full albums and two mini-albums. It’s a longer career than many better supported and more hyped bands have managed. Thank you indeed.

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