Grey Skies Blue

It's been a fairly grim week really. The Kids have been more annoying than normal, and the weather has been uniformly cold and grey. I suspect the two things are not unrelated. So it was therefore extra pleasing that whilst dropping by the Post Office on Friday afternoon to do the weekly mail pick-up, amongst the packages was one from the Matinee label; Matinee packages, after all, being guaranteed to raise spirits and make the sun shine brighter at least on the inside.

So, first out of the package are Lovejoy. Lovejoy seem to be Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. Lovejoy would love to be Dexy's Midnight Runners. Not that they want to sound like Dexy's of course - they have sense enough to know that just trying to ape someone's sound is not enough, is indeed to miss the point - it's just that they clearly aspire to the same kind of essence, or feeling. Lovejoy would like to inspire. Lovejoy would like to make us stop and Think! (sorry, that was a Jasmine Minks reference, which I know you all got, and which I know you all recognise as being as close to Dexy's as most people will ever manage). So for their Who Wants To Be A Millionaire album, instead of coming on with a brass section made in heaven or songs full of awesome soul, love and passionate hate, Lovejoy instead play the artwork card and give us a sleeve that pays homage to the peerless Dexy's debut, whilst on disc retaining their own more restrained take on techno/acoustic/electric-punk. So whilst this is never going to approach the heights scaled by the Rowland/Archer troupe (and let's face it, what is?), Lovejoy nevertheless offer us up a plate with some delectable treats. There's the opener 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' with it's early '90s beats and shimmering guitars; there's 'Plastic Flowers' that opens up with a drum-machine sound that makes you think of the early Looper records and then drenches the whole shebang with layers of guitar noise and the song title chanted as a kind of incantation to who the hell knows what. There's 'Snow Falling Softly' with it's rhythms sounding just like the title suggests, synth wash covering the land like the frosts of morning and a delicate guitar line picking out the sunlight shifting behind the red leaves of the tree next door. And just before you think it's only the techno-inflected numbers that are of interest, there's the gorgeous album closing 'Don't You (Wish You'd Never Met Me)' that shivers under the glow of Felt's pale light and of course there's the delectable cover of Biff Bang Pow's monumentally wondrous 'The Beat Hotel'. Guaranteed to make your heart bleed.

Next up are Harper Lee with their Everything's Going To Be Okay album. I'm really not sure about Harper Lee at all. No, not at all. To be honest I never have, just as I never was all that sure about singer Keris Howard's previous project Brighter. I'm more willing to give Brighter the benefit of the doubt, however, because in the days of Brighter the band was young(er) and inevitably more emotionally brittle. Not that thirty-somethings can't be emotionally brittle of course, it's just that shouldn't they be maybe writing about it in different ways?

I know I've been lucky. I have no idea how I would react if my major long-term relationship dissolved tomorrow. Maybe I would get all maudlin and introspective and start writing about wandering the streets of a meaningless town, and thinking about her with someone else and all of whatever. Maybe I already do. It's just, and again, maybe this is just me at my age and point in life today, I don't really want to hear songs about such things that sound like they have been written by a nineteen year old with no real experience or insight; with no desire to attempt a step up and away, to look at it all from a different perspective. I'd far rather listen to someone like David Gedge and his Cinerama, Gedge of course being so terrific at still writing about relationships and their odd edges from the perspective of someone my own age (and older, naturally). And incidentally, why haven't you all rushed out and bought the second instalment of Cinerama's excellent singles collections Cinerama Holiday? Oh you have? Good.

But back to Harper Lee. You see, IF Harper Lee actually were nineteen, and IF I was of that age myself I'd probably say something along the lines of 'Harper Lee purvey the perfect soundtrack for anyone who ever had their heart broken. Harper Lee is the sound of the wind whistling off the moor, freezing your tears to icicles.' But they're not. And I'm not. I guess it's just a question of context. And what isn't?

Better by far is the last disc to tumble from the envelope, the 'Jet Set Go!' single by Australia's The Guild League. The Guild League, as any follower of the Matinee 'scene' will no-doubt know, are headed up by Lucksmiths' Tali White and includes members of the sublime Art of Fighting, Sodastream and Candle Records artiste Richard Easton. Sounds like an Australian super-group to me... and that sounds just fine. As does the single, with its lead track bounding across the departure lounge all dressed up in suede jackets and brandishing guitars held high. 'Jet Set Go!' has an intriguing stop / start structure that recalls a more restrained Hurrah! or Hellfire Sermons with the visceral howls replaced by Tali's more laconic summer-breeze of a voice, and as a result is naturally a real gem that has been stuck on 'repeat' all morning. The other tracks, demos for two songs that will appear on the forthcoming album, are similarly good, with the rhythm of popping corn that precedes 'A Faraway Place' being particularly amusing. An essential purchase, I suggest, and a great taster for that album which, incidentally, you'd better be on your toes for as I understand it'll be limited to 1000 copies.

So Matinee Records; purveyors of extra-fine Pop crafted to take your grey skies down and paint them blue. Only hold on the Harper Lee...

© 2002 Alistair Fitchett