Review: Jack Foley
NOW here's something I didn't think I'd be writing in a hurry
- the Stereophonics' latest album is a class act, a glorious blowback
to Seventies rock 'n' roll, which marks an interesting change
of pace for Kelly Jones and co.
Ever since bursting onto the scene with 1997's Word Gets Around
(which spawned singles such as Traffic and Local
Boy In The Photograph), the band has seemed content to chart
a bland path, seldom straying too far away from the technically
accomplished, but soft pop-rock that their loyal fans seem to
Until now, that is. Whereas 2001's Just Enough Education to
Perform showed signs of a grittier edge, with the singles
Mr Writer and Vegas Two Times, it also was responsible
for two of the more risible singles of the band's recent history
- the bland Have A Nice Day, and the ill-advised cover,
Handbags and Gladrags.
With their fourth album, however, the emphasis seems to be on
change, as epitomised by the absence of Bush and Bird on production,
and the decision by Jones to step into the fray himself - along
with Jack Joseph Puig on mixing duties.
The result is a far more ambitious piece of work which, while
reverting to type in places, throws up plenty of pleasant surprises.
Take, for instance, the blistering first track, Help Me (She's
Out Of Her Mind), in which Jones' lazy vocals sound dirtier
and grizzlier than ever - rather like they do during the current
single, Madame Helga. The heavier guitars also drip Seventies
nostalgia, forcing you to sit up and take notice.
Jones has long been an accomplished singer/songwriter, but here
pushes the envelope still further, spouting a sort of drug-hazed
guilty logic that smacks of someone rebelling against what he
perceives as peoples' perceptions - ie, having ranted against
the media with tracks such as Mr Writer, he now delivers
the type of album that the critics had been crying out for - something
a little bit different.
Ironic, then, that several have come out against it, with some
lamenting Jones' decision to go it alone.
For his part, Jones wanted to start going into a studio in the
way people like John Fogerty, from Creedence Clearwater Revival,
apparently used to nine to five, and come out at the end
of each day with a finished song.
The ensuing 13-track album was recorded in the UK in the Summer
and Autumn of 2002 and mixed in Los Angeles in January 2003.
And, for this listener, the decision has paid off. Not everything
works, of course, with tracks such as Nothing Precious at All
and Since I Told You It's Over striking an imperfect
mix of Stereophonics' trademark blandness and the worst of the
Seventies excessive style.
But when it flies, it soars, and there are several stand-out
numbers. Future single, Maybe Tomorrow, is a sun-drenched
slice of Summer breeze, with some excellent female backing vocals,
while the dreamy Getaway is another excellent potential
single, complete with a shimmering piano-loop throughout which
adds a touch of class in the same way that the piano does on Coldplay's
Clocks. Both make you feel good in a way that Have A
Nice Day simply failed to.
But the real humdinger is the downbeat, hazy I'm Alright (You
Gotta Go There To Come Back) - a blissfully bitter record,
boosted by a really dirty beat and some great moments of guitar.
Jones' punchdrunk vocals also sound meaner and more reactive than
ever, openng with the line 'I'll drink another drink for you,
one, two, three, four, five, once I drank a fish alive, I'll drop
another pill for you, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, did it before,
do it again'.
It is a track which drips with bitterness, yet sounds all the
better for it; a darker, harder edge for Jones and co, which even
drifts into later Charlatans territory during its latter stages.
If this is a glimpse of the future for the band, then we can only
pray for more of the same.
1. Help Me (She's Out of Her Mind)
2. Maybe Tomorrow
3. Madame Helga
4. Climbing the Wall
6. You Stole My Money Honey
8. I'm Alright (You Gotta Go There to Come Back)
9. Nothing Precious At All
10. Rainbows and Pots of Gold
11. I Miss You Now
12. High as the Ceiling
13. Since I Told You It's Over