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In the early Nineties I used to write for a fanzine that received large quantities of unwanted demo tapes from parties aspiring to paid employment in the entertainment sector. It goes without saying that almost all were depressing beyond reason. But there were exceptions. One such came from a gaggle of Sunderland teenagers calling themselves Kenickie. The songs, demonstrating all the technical finesse and lyrical sophistication of a baby elephant, were better than anything most of our hopeless contenders could have attained in a furrowed lifetime of scale-practicing. But it was the improvised comedy routine on the other side of the tape that announced in unequivocal terms the arrival of the new star in the firmament that turned out to be the estimable Lauren Laverne.
Megan Thomas is one of those. You only have to hear a radio interview to appreciate that this person isn’t about to disappear from view. So we may as well get used to her. And if the evolutionary leap Thomas Tantrum have made since their 2008 debut is anything to go by, that second prize career in broadcasting is going to have to wait. Mad By Moonlight is constructed almost entirely from Great Pop Moments. There are a couple of tracks towards the end where maybe things get a little indie-generic, but the first eight really don’t put a toe out of place. Eight. That’s an impressive unbroken run by anybody’s standards. The only Abba album that could even think about making such a claim is Arrival. And don’t get me started on Girls Aloud. I’d defend their, or rather Xenomania’s, finer efforts to the death, or at least until lunchtime, but the bits in between the singles on a Girls Aloud album? Jesus.
I’m not suggesting by these comparisons that Thomas Tantrum have come over all Simon Cowell. Mad By Moonlight, while – thankfully – lacking the 'Look at me! Am I not quirky?' qualities of their debut is still rooted in the meat’n’potatoes guitar band vocabulary of 'indie'. But it’s high-octane stuff. There are four or five songs that could slot effortlessly between Professor Green and Bumford and Cunts on an imaginary present-day Top Of The Pops. We’re talking… I dunno, the poppier end of the Cure (‘Face The Music’ is rather explicit about this), or Catatonia (definite similarities in the voice, which since you’re asking was that act’s only redeeming feature, although that’s not strictly relevant here), or even (sacred cow alert) the early Pretenders. That good. I think so.
Pretty much an unreserved thumbs up, then. The production’s mostly a tad too literal-minded and squeaky-clean for my palate, but when the material is this hook-heavy that kind of thing really doesn’t matter. Thomas Tantrum understand that you have to up your game, move forward, explore the limits of your abilities. They understand that if you’re not willing to try and engage with the mainstream you may as well just shut the fuck up, but also that you’ll never engage convincingly while looking as if you’re rolling over to have your tummy tickled. If it’s daisycutter blasts of existential clarity – or just plain old musical innovation – you’re looking for then you’ve probably come to the wrong place. Mad By Moonlight will not in any way enhance the contemplative stroking of goatees. But as uncomplicated pop albums with more tunes than you can shake a stick at go it’s fairly fucking excellent.
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