Here's a sentence you probably didn't see coming: the debut Pure Love album -featuring the rabid, head-bleeding former Gallows frontman Frank Carter - sounds like Shed Seven. No, really. And what’s even weirder - it works surprisingly well.
When Carter walked out on his band and teamed up with Jim Carroll from the equally hardcore Hope Conspiracy, no-one knew quite what was coming next. The project's title hinted that Carter's days of screaming about "wipin' my cum off ya fackin' face" might be at an end, but even so - few would have anticipated such a dramatic about-face.
Anthems is many things: a punchy exploration of positivity and good grace; a rejection of the darkness in its authors' pasts both lyrically and musically that is at times insanely catchy; occasionally it has to be said, a wee bit workmanlike. What it isn't is by any definition punk. Not in the hardcore sense, not in the snotty Seventies sense, nor the poppy new wave sense. Instead Carter and Carroll have delivered a solid rock record routed in big, swaggering stadium guitars with more than a dollop of - of all things - post-Oasis Britpop. Had this come out in 1997 it would have slotted in as a natural, if muscular entry to the crowded pages of Select and Vox.
It's not just the aforementioned Shed Seven, there's shades here of Gold Against The Soul -era Manics (‘Bury My Bones’), early Oasis (‘She (Makes The Devil Run Through Me)’), the post-American Idiot Green Day (‘Handsome Devils Club’) and even U2 (‘March of the Pilgrims’), with nods to the Smiths, Big Country, Springsteen, The Wildhearts and a hundred other bracing, widscreen rock bands. It's an unashamed shot at what Nicky Wire recently called "mass communication", and one that could well hit its mark.
Now, admit it: this sounds awful, doesn’t it? That’s a description of landfill indie of the worst kind. But you know what? It isn’t awful. It’s really good; occasionally it’s even brilliant. Like the Gaslight Anthem, Pure Love know when to apply to common touch, they know when to widen into a big poppy chorus, or tighten right down. ‘Beach of Diamonds’ is a genuinely brilliant pop song, all big slashy Mick Jones chords with a belter of a chorus, ‘Heavy Kind of Chain’ is straight out of the Morrissey/Marr school of classic indie, ‘Burning Love’ is a beefy, emotive ballad with just enough lighters-in-the-air triumph and a downbeat tone.. It’s a lot like, well... a lot like Shed Seven used to do (Let's get this out the way: the Sheds were a better band than you remember.) Few groups in the last decade have had the bollocks to go for the popularist jugular quite so effectively and so credibly.
For those following his career, it's Carter's voice that will surprise most - gone is the raspy yap often delivered from atop the speaker stack while bleeding on the circle pit, replaced by a fine, roughened croon that brings to mind Richard Ashcroft, Noel Gallagher or most often (yes) Rick Witter himself. But the real difference isn’t Carter's voice; it’s his outlook. It’s likely every review of this record is going to quote the opening line of ‘Bury My Bones’: “I’m so sick of singing about hate, it’s never gonna make a change”, which sets the tone for a record that is far more about love than it is about hate, and far more about acceptance than the righteous, nihilistic fury of Gallows’ Grey Britain.
There are times, as on the dry ‘Scared To Death’ where some of that fury would have come in handy, and Carter is a little too fond of the extended metaphor (”she is the needle, not the vein in your arm” or ”You’ll be the petrol, I’ll be the fire”.) Occasionally Carroll’s arrangements shoot for for stadium anthem and come up with something a bit plodding and Dadrock. Fortunately such moments are remarkably thin on the ground.
Anthems is a confident, solid and ultimately hugely likable debut; Carter and Carroll have succeeded in producing something that on occasion genuinely lives up to its ambitious title, trading the aggressive outsider punk of their past lives for something more accessible and more positive, it’s a huge risk given their respective fanbases, but one that pays off- not just chasing rainbows, but riding them.
7Marc Burrows's Score