It’s inevitable, really, given the size of our puny human brains, that we should attempt to break things down, create boundaries and defining divides, impose the illusion of structure upon the chaotic world that we inhabit. Nostalgically we look back across the years, and assume that, with the release of the last Beatles record and the turn of the decade, the sixties came to a crashing halt, and people awoke into a new world filled with flares, spacehoppers, and Elton John.
And so we also like to imagine an increased significance on events that take place as our temporal structures come to an end, or begin anew. While we were all partying like it was 1999, the Flaming Lips dropped their masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, which would go on to become a bona fide document of the time. It was a record that was so full of unspoken hope and promise for the future, an album that allowed us to metaphorically lift up the sun and look forward to the new millennium, and a changed world. And then, as we arrived there, Radiohead slapped us all around the face with Kid A, reminding us that nothing had changed after all. Everything was in it’s right place, but that’s not necessarily where we wanted it to be. Both these albums come with increased historical significance, perhaps by fortune, perhaps by design, because of their release at times when we look back and demand some sort of definition. Pre-millennial hope followed by post-millennial depression. And as we come to a close of the first decade of the new millennium, enter The Twilight Sad.
Predictably, Forget The Night Ahead isn’t an album that looks forward with much hope, or indeed, at all. Given that the band’s previous record was a loose-concept album about childhood, it would be foolish of us to expect anything that gave the future much more than a cursory glance. But that makes even more sense – given what’s happened this decade, and the over-riding feeling of pessimism that descends upon us, it only makes Forget seem even more era-defining.
And this does feel era-defining. There’s an epicness to every single song on this album. Not in the Coldplay, U2 definition of epic, meaning “as many guitar effects as possible”, but in the sense that they will fill the room, it feels limitless and, in a truly poetic way, like every song could mean something entirely different to every single listener. And while you will doubtless be happy playing this to yourself through headphones, it’s sure as hell not the kind of album you’ll be happy keeping to yourself.
The opening ‘Reflections of the Television’, with it’s descending minor bassline that just keeps descending, and you keep falling into it, sets the tone. “You told me it’d get better, but I know you’re wrong.” As far as trying to define our decade goes, I’m not sure it comes much more pithy than that. It’s claustrophobic, and you’ll feel trapped and scared and alone, by the second verse you’ll be totally engulfed in this experience. Take your pick of who James Graham is accusing on ‘The Room’ when he sings “look what you have done” – lying politicians, Islamic fundamentalists, city bankers, cheating lovers? If I’m making this sound depressing, I apologise – it’s certainly bleak, but at no point does it’s oppressive sound become anything less than a monumental artistic experience. The finest art reflects the world around it, and there’s no doubt that this album is one of the finest. No-one said it should leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Guitarist and Graham’s co-song-writer Andy McFarlane summed up the entire album in a recent interview when he said, of tail-end track ‘Interrupted’, “James is singing about killing and burying people. It’s accessible, if you don’t mind that.”
Its release so close to the latest resurgence of Beatlemania is also significant. The Beatles crowing achievement was to set down what it meant to be a “band”, writing their own songs, playing their own instruments, creating the template for forty years and more of rock music. The Twilight Sad remind you of what can be achieved entirely within that set up. There is no computer trickery here, no electronically synthesized noise, nothing beyond the traditional rock band instruments, in a climate where, recently, the very best music has made use of more modern technologies. Forget the Night Ahead is a love letter to rock music, a timely reminder that despite regular announcements to the contrary, the genre is alive and kicking. And, indeed, thrashing and screaming.
Of course, it’s up to the passage of time to decide whether, in ten years, we remember this album as fondly as the two I mentioned at the start of this review. Or if we look back and remember it as the moment where British rock music was saved from the post-Libertines mire. At the moment, it certainly feels like we should, though of course, it all depends on it getting the attention it deserves. Like all the greatest records, there is no discernible highlight, no single standout, and no track you could pick on as the weakest. It’s a consistently majestic album, that brings something new to the table with each new song. An album you really, really shouldn’t miss out on.