After a lengthy stint on Fortuna Pop, Edinburgh’s Spook School have found a home at that lovely bear-hug of a label Alcopop! and put together a third record that capitalises on the trans-romance, gender-defying DIY of their previous efforts, 2013’s Dress Up and 2015’s majestic Try To Be Hopeful while pushing forward a guitar-driven, anthemic aesthetic that’s as heart-filling and timely as it is fun.
We open with live favourite ‘Still Alive’ on which lead vocalist Nye Todd shouts “I let you mess me around too many times / No more”, an early Manics charged slash of incendiary, gorgeous resistance that sees our protagonist spit in the face of an abusive relationship and, empowered, walk away.
The low-slung bass of Anna Cory rules ‘Less Than Perfect’, an early punk scratcher that explodes with a behemoth of a chorus filled with teen joy and rebellion while on ‘Bad Year’ which offers the plaintive “I want all of my friends to not be terrified” before dipping into the harsh self-analysis of “I keep thinking of myself because I’m such a selfish man”, we have a post-Brexit, mid-Trump anthem for the ages. Around these clear, honest thoughts we get Fanclub-like harmony and instrumentation before an all-guns blazing climax worthy of a main stage set closer.
The heavenly chorus of the empowering ‘I Only Dance When I Want To’ recalls some of the best moments of the band’s regular touring partners Diet Cig while offering a precise and impassioned declaration of the terms of consent - “You’re reaching for my hands now, but I don’t want to dance now.”
‘Body’ throws up C86 junk-shop riffola from inspired guitarist Adam Todd while offering “Other people seem so confident - I don’t know how they do it / You’ve got a lot to be proud of / I’ve got a lot to be proud of.” It’s an affirmation of gender-fluid physicality and sexuality that’s entirely celebratory and geared to offer a kind hand to those who may be suffering. Rock'n’ roll surely isn’t admirable that often, but here, with zero pretension and not a po face in sight, it most certainly is.
On their plea for safe spaces and equity, the candy-crushing ‘Best Of Intentions’ we get more charmed pop to sugar the pill of statements like “Everything you’ve got is everything they’re taking” - yet while this is certainly optimistic and forward-looking thematically it never strikes the listener as naive; more a call to resistance and self-acceptance from a group of people who have experienced personal hardships that they’ve channeled into life and love-affirming pop excellence.
While the music hall live charm of drummer Niall McCamley can’t be accurately depicted on record (it’s essential to see this band live) his skill in holding together what could be a somewhat ragged charge is impressive - riffs fly everywhere, speed is often of the essence and things could take a swerve for the shambolic were it not for his locking in with Cory to form such a muscular, reliable rhythm section.
Closer ‘High School’ asks some key questions: “If I played sports i high school / Would I feel more confident?” and “Would I have come out earlier? / Or would I keep it all inside?” and acts as a sober summation of the album it caps; there’s insecurity, certainly; self-reflection, yes; but more than that there’s resilience, romance, strength, sensuality and an album full of lurching, longing, lustrous pop songs. Get involved - you might just fall in love.