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Stereophonics - You Gotta Go There To Come Back


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 lap up.

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.

Terrific stuff.

 

Track listing:
1. Help Me (She's Out of Her Mind)
2. Maybe Tomorrow
3. Madame Helga
4. Climbing the Wall
5. Getaway
6. You Stole My Money Honey
7. Jealousy
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

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