The Guilty Hands certainly know their home country’s music scene of the last thirty years. They’ve perfected the hand-clap as auxiliary percussion (‘The Killing Of Isla Nicholson,’ ‘Down By Your Shoulders’), the repeat-the-one-line-chorus-til-it’s-a-mantra (‘Up on the Hill [No. 42]’) and the angular guitar strike (‘Razor’). But even after all of this, none of it feels genuine. Rather, Desire on a Short Leash comes off as a college thesis: a bunch of references from more knowledgeable and creative people. That’s not to say that the songwriting is bad. It definitely has its merits – some of the melodies are downright gorgeous (‘The Wilder Shores of Love,’ for example) – but Desire is more like an introduction for noobs to the British music scene writ large instead of a band within it making a name for themselves. A shame, because the band is indeed talented at writing songs, even if they lift instead of innovate.
The fuzzed out ‘Razor,’ with its catchy-as-hell chorus, is one of the many examples that this band has ability – even if it was borrowed from Depeche Mode, and the guitar riff rented from Gang of Four. Better still are the acoustic ballads ‘Wilder Shores’ and ‘Black Doves.’ Sure, they have cheesy background strings, but the melodies and lyrics more than make up for it. Look at the torn love seen in the bridge of ‘Wilder’: “It was just a kiss/ A loving gesture” and then seconds later singer Gareth Moss laments, “It was just a kiss/ I kissed without thinking.” Ouch. Elsewhere, on ‘Gregory’ sees Moss settling when life deals him a bad hand: “This isn’t love/ But it’s enough.” His delivery, coupled with blunt wording, makes for engaging songcraft. It’s more than reminiscent of Robert Smith’s love-soaked misery.
And that’s the bizarre dichotomy found here: The Guilty Hands are one of the more interesting new bands on the UK scene. The problem is that they’ve mastered the ‘Brit’ sound to such a degree that it’s as if they’re demonstrating their obviously deep knowledge instead of employing it. Some of these songs pinch ideas from the likes of New Order, Killing Joke and Blur so specifically it’s a wonder it isn’t plagiarism. Yet, it’s damn near forgivable given the excellent set of songs here. Imagine a kid with a coloring book who wants nothing more than to make the image perfect. The only way to do that, of course, is to only colour within the lines, never straying from the linear path. It seems The Guilty Hands are that kid; they’re good at what they do. If they were to stray from the well-worn path and colour outside the lines, they could be great.