Tellison are one of those acts that, even though you find yourself liking them, you can’t imagine them being anyone’s favourite band. It’s hard to think of a better way of describing their music, because it’s difficult to put a label on. It’s not that they defy categorisation in that Radiohead 'we’re too complicated to possibly be reduced to a genre', sort of way. It’s almost the opposite. With Tellison, it’s more that they don’t really have a trademark that says 'This is the sort of band that we are'. It makes it hard to imagine what Tellison’s biggest fan says when he/she is asked, 'What’s so great about Tellison?'.
It’s strange, because they’re the sort of band that might come up in conversation, and everyone will agree that they’re good. But you never meet anyone who raves about their latest single and yearns to see them play live. Everyone, it seems, has already seen them. 'They were good,' they’ll say.
And they are good. The Wages Of Fear, their second album, ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. On its opening track, ‘Get On’, crunchy power chords are saved from tedium by a big, warm, fuzzy lead hook. The whole mood of the track (and much of the album) is guaranteed to lift you out a bad mood by smothering you in major chords. But by weaving minor notes into the melodies, Tellison don’t crudely wallpaper over your woes. They tell you everything will be okay, instead of insisting that everything is fine through a gritted smile.
What Tellison explore, in fact, is that curious emo strain of the pop-punk DNA. But they do it without ever writing a ludicrously catchy pop song, without ever writing a snotty punk anthem, and all the while being far too reserved to be caricatured as full-blown whining emo kids. All of which makes it far too easy to listen The Wages Of Fear and enjoy it (subject to a previously established fondness for the likes of Taking Back Sunday and Hundred Reasons) without really noting any stand out tracks.
There are moments that remain in your memory – the puzzlingly fun a cappella break in ‘Collarbone’ is a delightful surprise, while the battling post-punk riffs of ‘Tell It To Thebes’ eventually snap like an elastic band into a great thudding coda. Unfortunately, there are bits that stick in your mind for the wrong reasons too, such as ‘Freud Links The Teeth To The Heart’, which as the token slow song isn’t helped by lyrics that sound simultaneously sweet and shoddy (“My dentist’s a girl from France / I fancy off her pants”). Then there’s ‘Horses’, which contains a repeated refrain of, “Horses can feel more than we do”. I mean seriously, what the fuck?
Overall though, The Wages Of Fearis in no way defined by these slip-ups. Unfortunately, it’s no more defined by the genuine sparks of creativity and originality that turn up from time to time. It’s just good, if you like that sort of thing – which to be fair, a lot of people do. Tellison certainly don’t show any signs of revitalising or redefining alternative rock in this country, but they’ll keep getting gigs and people will keep enjoying them. You won’t rush out to buy this album, but if Tellison are on at a festival you’re going to, you’ll probably go see them there. And they’ll be good, which is more than you can say for a lot of bands.
6Robert Cooke's Score