“I stand in the cold night air
I just stare
I swim in the midnight sea
Just the waves and me”
So begin the lyrics of Port Bou, as it erupts from a single guitar into a soundscape. Brief, existential, snapshot statements which, given that the band seems to be channeling Echo and The Bunnymen, immediately bring to mind the notion that Anton Corbijn might have made the video, or at least cause your mind’s eye to see in black and white. It’s a strong opener, and it’s tracks like this that have earned the band a lot of well-deserved radio play of late. For example, Tune Out (as featured on ‘6 Music Recommends’) with its precisely judged guitar solo, or Borrowed Pen with its wonky, earworm riff.
It’s not all like this though. Equally good, yet utterly different, is Locked Together on The Lines. Its grisly theme and Medway setting make it a cousin of The Ballad of Tommy Hall from the band’s first album, and it’s a rare moment of third person writing. Elsewhere, there’s Teardrop. “I feel my life is like a teardrop”, it begins, threatening to build and metamorphose into a full-on Country song, lap steel and all. It never does. It would be fun if it did, but that’s probably not the point.
Is That For You? is an absolute killer. Somewhere between a love song and a prayer, it sounds epic but never overblown, with more than a little of The Go-Betweens about it. It’s both perfect and perfectly placed for what follows it. Standing in the Land is quiet, and in so being grabs your full attention. It stays quiet, built on acoustic guitar and organ alone for the most part. It’s a song about refugees, fear of the unknown and understanding (or lack of it). It’s a brave song to have put on the album. Turn it off if you don’t want to think about it.
The final track, Staring Into The Void, is equally arresting. “What would my dead self say if he could see the way I live my life today?” enquires the incongruously uplifting and beautiful chorus. Fuck. Time to go back to Port Bou, feel the cold air and midnight sea and start again.
… and then it fell out of my head is the fourth album and fifteenth release from Medway’s Theatre Royal, and it’s available from the following places.
By Phil Dillon