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If you were to pick a place in the UK to be the birthplace of an album harking back to the glory days of the New Romantics, the west Wales town Aberystwyth wouldn't be it. But that's the home of Race Horses, (formerly Radio Luxembourg), and they've made an album that wouldn't be out of place soundtracking Ashes to Ashes.
At the outset, Furniture is all mid-Eighties veneer and gloss, conjuring up echoes of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Soft Cell. The dominant piano hook of opening track 'Furniture' sets the tone, all pin-sharp production with a hint of reverb, while second track 'Mates' only reinforces the assocations of excessive hairspray and padded shoulders. It's all held together in playful yet composed style by vocalist Meilyr Jones, whose perfectly composed tones brings together Tony Hadley and Morrissey, seemingly without effort.
Throughout, you're detecting a hotchpotch of half-remembered hooks that bring to mind songs from school discos and weddings - was that a touch of Queen's 'Radio Gaga' on 'Nobody's Son'? Does 'My Year Abroad' threaten to turn into 'Temptation' for three lines, or is it my imagination? This album is crammed full of influences, and wears them proudly on its rolled-up suit jacket sleeve.
As you dig a little deeper, though, there's a real sense that's there's more to this album than smart karaoke. Lyrics deal heavily with frustration, decaying relationships and isolation. Insistent guitar lines cut through the balladeering on 'What Am I To Do', whereas 'See No Green' sees a clearly Welsh lilt blur the edges of Jones's otherwise smooth vocal stylings. Closer 'Old and New' starts out as a plain ballad,but finishes up distinctly unsettling. The reflective black glass is cracked, revealing something … else… underneath. Perhaps it's a metaphor for the rot at the heart of Thatcher's Britain. Perhaps it's simply that element of wonkiness that seems to infect bands from west of the Black Mountain and Snowdonia, working its influence. Either way, it feels like Race Horses are sneaking in something naughty, and that's exciting.
Sure, you can listen to this album and play 'spot the influence'; it's also about as perfect an approximation of a mid-Eighties New Romantic album as you're likely to find this side of a Rubik's Cube. But it's the unexpected moments, the smudges on the sheen that make Furniture something more than simply a nostalgia trip.