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In Britain, 'trying to be clever' is pretty much the worst put-down you can level at somebody short of 'racist paedophile'. Which in a pop music context is ironic, given that much of 'our' early success in that sphere was due to precocious art school types with at least a grudging interest in cultural theory taking ideas that had been worked up in the U.S. and, er, doing something clever with them. In funny clothes. And, really, what are the alternatives? Not trying to be clever will, it’s true, on occasion produce a Never Mind The Bollocks, a Bummed, a Dare. But mostly you’ll end up with dogfood like Oasis, or whatever they are called this week: 4 Skins, ‘Three Lions’, ‘Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps Please’, one-nil one-nil one-nil, zero.
Dutch Uncles don’t suffer from trying to be clever. They positively relish it. And because they actually are clever they don’t have to try too hard, which always helps, and they don’t lose sight of the fact that if it’s no fun it can be as clever as it wants but will still be the musical equivalent of a man shouting up his own arsehole. A 'Dutch uncle', apparently, is 'a person who criticises or reproves frankly and severely'. Listening to the group’s music, one can imagine a certain amount of this going down in their practice room as they get to grips with songs largely based around prime numbers that aren’t two or three. Even when most of the parts are moving in rock-obedient fours, which isn’t that often, there will be at least one guitar that’s thinking about something else entirely, its pattern reeling in and out of phase with the metre of the piece as a whole.
But no, wait, come back! It’s fun. It’s pop. I’m making them sound like, I dunno, This Heat or Radiohead or something. Really they’re more like a cross between Chic and the Fire Engines, the word of Paul Morley made flesh (and let’s give ‘Take Me Out’ a quick era-defining high five while lamenting that its creators did nothing else of note). Cadenza’s opener and title track is quite simply – quite complicatedly – one of the loveliest things you’ll hear this year, its insistent Nile Rodgers riff helicoptering around a chord sequence that never seems to come to Earth and making nonsense of the trying-to-be-stupid notion that there’s nothing new to be done with the guitar band format. Both this and last year’s single ‘Fragrant’ employ the old ‘Face In’ trick of having a prime-numbered verse open out into a comforting four-square chorus. But one of the many great things about ‘Cadenza’ is that the bit in sevens is the catchy bit.
Having cohabited for a couple of years with the first Dutch Uncles album, the one they now seemingly want to disown, I must admit to being ever so slightly disappointed with Cadenza. The group’s palette is widening promisingly, and the first five tracks – six if you want to count the we-can-do-this-too Beach Boys homage ‘Dolli’ – are more or less flawless, but repeated exposure hasn’t shaken an early impression that the hooks grow blunter as the record wears on, where the first one didn’t exhibit any such inconsistency. OK, the flat production on Dutch Uncles left plenty to be desired, but the material started every bit as strongly as that on Cadenza, while the latter doesn’t even have a ‘Face In’, never mind a ‘Wild St.’ That said, those last few numbers are by no means rubbish, they’re just not up with the group’s best work. And I’d rather have a Dutch Uncles focussed on moving onward and upwards than some kind of Joy Formidable-type attempt to eke out the smallest number of songs over the longest period of time. So I’m far from complaining, and I’m sure Cadenza will receive its due from the list-makers when last orders is called on 2011. A more than healthy eight, then, but the next Dutch Uncles album, provided they keep one eye on the fun and their slide-rule just out of view… ten out of ten, clear round, no falls, no refusals. You read it here first. Probably.
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