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If I were a girlfriend of Chapel Club, right about now I’d be nervous. Palace, the London-based quintet’ s debut offering, is probably best described as a love story. Just don’t go expecting a Love Actually-style tale where all’s well that ends well means Hugh Grant gets to snog Tiffany off EastEnders. It is not that sort of love story.
Just about every worst-case scenario possible is on display here, from 'Blind’s frustration at the strain of long-distance love, to the lusty confusion of 'Five Trees’s “I strayed too far into a dream”, to the final, heartbroken relay of a rejection in ‘O Maybe I’: “I just can’t go through it again/she said/nobody asked you to darling/I just can’t pretend that I care/Well who ever thought that you did?”
There’s a measure of despair running through Lewis Bowman’s lyrics that, if it doesn’t come from personal experience, pegs Bowman as a highly sensitive young chap who we might need to keep an eye on lest his heart ever actually get broken. Perversely, the experience of listening seems to be an exercise in taking pleasure in the gloom, Michael Hibbert and Alex Parry’s euphoric guitars soundtracking the emotional meltdown of the universe.
The album wears its influences on its sleeve; in fact it’s one of the few bones to pick, that there’s just so many of them. Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths are the obvious ones. Yes they’re all Eighties glumrock, no you can’t much tell the difference. Meanwhile the press release namechecks such literary icons as Ernest Hemmingway and Ted Hughes. And yes, there is the small issue of THAT chorus on ‘Surfacing’. This is not a band who could be accused of living in a cultural vacuum.
Let’s be blunt here: this is the sound of reaching for Mars and then some. The band’s lofty intentions are written all over this album, displaying choruses tailor-made for festivals on ‘Fine Light’ and ‘Five Trees’ and guitars the size of Everest on ‘White Knight Position’. The album as a whole could never quite match up to either the band’s Titanic-sized ambition or the massive hype heaped on their shoulders. In an era where the act of can’t-be-arsed is so often mistaken for hipster cool, the fact they’re even trying already puts them ahead of the pack.
It’s a slow-burner of an album, taking multiple listens before the true impact of a lot of the lyrics hits home. If you’re expecting instant gratification, you’re missing the point. Like all the best relationships, the album sneaks up on you from out of nowhere, and what on first listen seems insignificant is, by the third listen, firmly laying claim to your brain and won’t leave even if you serve it with an eviction notice. There’s a deceptive mastery of the art of the catchy hook on display that wouldn’t be out of place on any fine pop song, suggesting the band have more going for them musically than just your average dour rockers.
Palace is neither quite as original nor quite as good as the hype would have us believe. As an album, however, its strength lies in its depth of feeling being instantly recognisable to any listener who’s ever had their heart broken, broken a heart, or generally had a romantic endeavour that’s gone a bit shit.
- In Photos: Chapel Club @ Shepherds Bush Empire, London
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- In Photos: Latitude Festival 2011 @ Henham Park, Suffolk
- In Photos: Chapel Club @ Brixton Academy, London
- In Photos: SXSW Festival 2011 @ Austin, Texas
- Chapel Club - Palace
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