Quite an interval seems to have passed between this and The Longcut’s terrific debut – 2006’s A Call And Response: three years more or less to the month, in fact. The traditional writer’s resorts of Wikipedia and the band’s own web site offer no particular clues as to why there was such a gap (lineup changes? artistic differences? label disputes?), but hey, who cares. Ultimately the only thing at issue here is the music: have they produced an album on a par with the last one, or have the ensuing years been less than kind to the band’s dynamic and creativity?
I am pleased to report that The Longcut of 2009 doesn’t disappoint. Still present and correct is the fascinatingly, sometimes eerily, detached and alienated vocal, particularly prevalent on ‘Out At The Roots’, ‘Something Inside’ and ‘Evil Dance’, which combines with taut delivery and a harsh line in lyrical put-down particularly on ‘Tell You So’, featuring enjoyably devastating declarations like “I’m not making it up to you / So stop laying your guilt on me / If I loved you I’d tell you so”. An undertone of menace or threat is also palpable in places, such as the brilliant, driving ‘Evil Dance’, all fear of being lost and feeling “scared as hell”, like finding yourself at an insalubrious club, on the wrong night, in the wrong town, on the wrong drugs.
What feels new, though, is the emphasis on sentiment and emotion – often touching and sounding like it is based on authentic events and relationships. A softer side of the band peeks through the dystopian angst on tracks like ‘Open Hearts’ (“I won’t forget that look you gave me / When you held me in your arms / And told me that you wanted more”), ‘Mary Bloody Sunshine’, ‘Repeated’ (“Hey beautiful, take my hand”), and stand-out track and album closer ‘The Last Ones Here’. This is reflected in a much softer vocal quality too, with the band occasionally morphing from PiL to Teenage Fanclub, say within a single track (‘Tell You So’, or ‘The Last Ones Here’).
Musically the band flit between a motorik kind of kraut-electro as exhibited best on ‘Something Inside’ and ‘Evil Dance’, taut post-punk (manifested in the sense of danger and guitar sounds on tracks like ‘Out At The Roots’) and moments of shimmering shoegaze (‘At Any Time’, ‘Mary Bloody Sunshine’) and post-rock (‘You Can Always Have More’, ‘Boom’). By failing to place themselves totally in any one camp, genre-wise, they neatly sidestep predictability and endow each track with pleasing twists and turns that nevertheless sound organic and non-contrived.
The best tracks here, I think, are the aforementioned ‘The Last Ones Here’, which wins points for combining most of the best qualities to be found on the album; ‘Something Inside’, for its speedy Krautrock feel, and the excellent lyric “I don’t feel your caffeine rush / And my nicotine high is gone”; and ‘Evil Dance’ for just being, well, evil, yet danceable. The album in its entirety, though, is undoubtedly a success, and will perhaps prove even more of a success – because of its more likeable and emotional content that the listener is able to relate to – than its predecessor.