In January, as duly noted by band and associates (I don’t follow her… honest), international font of knowledge Peaches Geldof tweeted thus: “Thinking about how crap that band the Young Knives were. They should have been amazing as it was a band of multiple Marks from Peep Show”.
Quite apart from how a band comprised of Mark Corrigans would be useless, it’s not entirely surprising that a self-appointed youth culture guru would laud the post-ironic dress sense but completely miss the music. Perhaps because they’d been around for a few years already, Young Knives seemed to arrive fully formed at a time when cleanly angular guitars and start-stop rhythms were fashionable. While they surrounded their image with the detritus of semi-novelty – trainee accountant style, tweed, Morris dancers in a video and a bassist called House Of Lords – they took up a resolutely British malaise, breathlessly awkward skewerings of newly commercial guitar pop and the social futility of failing to find their place.
Going on Ornaments From The Silver Arcade, it’s something they’ve discarded. This seems a deliberate decision, having recorded it in LA with Nick Launay (Public Image Ltd, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Cave) bringing out a sunnier nature, but it’s equally as if it’s been decided the dynamic range and sense of working man urban ennui leading to righteous anger of their first two albums is now a hindrance. There’s little of that wry self-assurance and quiet desperation, nor the subtle pastorialism or psychedelic touches of previous work. When Henry Dartnall drops from his standard vocal range, nasally awkward at best, into his occasional never endearing squawky whine it really doesn’t help matters.
Instead, the album is built on clean and shiny mid-80s radio friendly production and greater explicitness about returning after all to the rote ‘post-punk’ sound. Both are in evidence on ‘Woman’, the funk bass and disco hi-hat coming unfortunately close to the recent Gang Of Four album before spurious female “yeah, yeah, yeah” backing vocals appear. Single ‘Love My Name’ employs a precise staccato riff and a naggingly familiar chorus vocal melody subsequently swept aside by a huge arena rock middle eight. Of course there are second hand synth sounds. ‘Everything Falls Into Place’ could be Aztec Camera with Roddy Frame’s eye for detail superceded by a sense of self-fulfilment before A Flock Of Seagulls keys stink up the middle. ‘Running From A Standing Start’ opens with synths borrowed from ITV For Schools And Colleges title music before the alarming opening line “there’s a new dance called the sway low”. Dartnall tops that two lines later for unpleasant mental imagery with “lunchtime Lucy loves to watch me do the coochie on my knees”. Um, if you like, Henry. Such oddness aside it sounds like one of those bands that tried out jaunty Britpop with extra eyeliner around late 1997. You have to look hard for Anglophiliac references – Dartnall’s suggestion on ‘Glasshouse’ that his daughter’s “laughter fills me up like shepherd’s pie”, for instance, though that gets lost amid the bulldozer overbearingness of the guitar sound. ‘Silver Tongue’ is the nadir. Five words of explanation: It sounds like The Bravery.
As former members of the Rakes will attest, Young Knives aren’t the first band of that mini-era to find themselves at a stylistic crossroads three albums in and lose their edge trying to find a way out. They were though one of the few with a strong enough identity to be able to forge their own identity, as rural Albion chroniclers making hooks out of unlikely concepts and lyrical capital from suburban discontent. Putting that aside in favour of an album that reaches for the overblown and only finds the inconspicuous in the supposed name of progress seems to be a classic case of cutting off their collective nose to spite their face. For once, albeit more pre-emptively than she could have thought, Peaches seems to be proved right.