Album review

The Experimental Pop Band :
Tarmac & Flames

Cooking Vinyl

The Experimental Pop Band : Tarmac & FlamesThe Experimental Pop Band have been around an awful long time, and it shows. The main emotion projected here isn't anger, grief, love or longing; it's a kind of tired boredom, as though prime mover Davey Woodhead and his cohorts were just plain sick of cobbling tunes together and getting nowhere.

Long-suffering stoicism is all over these songs. They strive to present a gritty, hard-hitting portrait of the band's native Bristol, but somehow fail to make you feel the human cost hidden in among the shoddy tower blocks, the shoplifting single mothers and the filthy river. As urban dystopia, it's utterly uninvolving. There's none of the blue-collar glamour of Springsteen's New Jersey, none of the fiery fury of The Clash's London Calling, no hint of the heartbreak locked into Suede's trashy tragedies. There's only a grinding disgust with almost everything - joyless sex, faithless lovers, hopeless dead-end jobs and pointless violence. Even the cover art edges towards misogyny.
    Musically, it's a rag-bag. Eschewing the influence of more successful Bristol acts like Massive Attack, Tricky or Portishead, its roots are firmly stuck in the redundance of Britpop. Just as Coldplay and Starsailor picked up the leavings from Radiohead's table when the better band moved on, so this CD draws on Supergrass, Elastica, early Blur; Damon Albarn should be getting royalties on songs like Gothenburg and the queasy Can't Stand It. Scattered around are wilder borrowings - a jazz groove on Crow Ventura, a sleazy rock riff on Desert Me, the ghost of Brian Wilson and Ray Davies. There's even a touch of Memphis; vocally, Woodhead recalls no-one as much as The Grifters' Dave Shouse.

Only once does the mixture seem to gel and coalesce into something more than the sum of its parts. Suddenly, with the album's official closer Accident, all the lights come on. Nausea is replaced by need, despair by hope as a chiming chronicle of a car crash opens out into something gently transcendent. "Then I kissed her mouth, blew into her lungs, she opened her eyes . . . those great big blue eyes." It seems there is a reason to live after all - but after 13 tracks of dreary dross, it's too little, too late.

:: Clare O'Brien

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