Field Music - (Measure) (Memphis Industries)
The story of Field Music is one of the more interesting industry sagas of recent years, and a refreshing example of how a combination of imagination and sheer persistence can reap rewards. Unfairly written off as an inferior cousin to The Futureheads, there's now plenty of evidence that Field Music were always the better band - a group with an unusual ability to be as inventive as possible with the traditional rock group set-up. Perhaps their quirky, angular, constantly shifting approach to classic pop was never likely to have mass appeal, but the excellent 'Tones of Town' album was cruelly overlooked both by critics and the public. Meeting with such indifference, Field Music announced an indefinite hiatus, but rather than abandoning their musical dreams altogether, the Brewis brothers sub-divided into two separate projects, School of Language and The Week That Was. Both yielded outstanding results and had distinctive individual identities.
With their profile now duly raised by this clever musical and promotional game playing, the Brewis brothers return as Field Music with a substantial double album demonstrating their ambition, if not quite the full scope of their interests. As if by way of atonement, '(Measure)' has received ecstatic featured reviews in the monthly rock press. Critics are correct to eulogise the Brewis' melodic and rhythmic gifts - and '(Measure)' is unsurprisingly filled with structural intelligence and exceedingly clever writing. At times, it also sounds remarkably taut - the sound of a well-rehearsed, carefully arranged small unit.
There is much to admire on '(Measure)', from the nimble chamber-pop of the title track to the insistent, spiky adrenaline rush of 'Effortlessly' or the infectious chime of 'Them That Do Nothing'. Many of these songs are astute lessons in how to produce guitar based pop with sophistication and clarity. The Brewis brothers work brilliantly together, and their refined vocal harmonies are a major feature of the group's sound. Similarly, they design their songs to feature intricate, complementary guitar parts. They rarely resort to bland strumming or the simple marking of time. This is often what makes their songs stand out as exciting.
Sometimes, I suspect, it makes their music seem more adventurous than it actually is. '(Measure)' is very much rooted in classic British pop - and for much of its duration it seems like a more progressive reformulation of the essential ingredients of pop music as defined by the great acts of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps as a result, it does occasionally drift into slightly plodding, guitar-rock formula ('Lights Up'). As much as I enjoy it (and I really do), I can't help feeling it's a less intriguing project than either the School of Language or The Week That Was albums. Those albums had strong conceptual foundations and drew from a less obvious array of musical influences.
'(Measure)' works best when it hints at this broader knowledge - the superb minimal synth and percussion workout of 'Let's Write A Book' or the Afro-Cuban informed coda to 'All You'd Ever Need To Say'. The latter is a good example of another frustrating tendency here - occasionally, the Brewis brothers have great ideas which they simply throw in loosely and fail to develop. Still, there's no doubting the Brewis brothers have major talent and an appetite for adventure - and it's great to see their peculiar business model sustaining them. This should set the benchmark for British rock bands. It provides clear evidence that it is possible to play classic rock music with a pioneering spirit.