As the mouthpiece for Canadian troupe The Hidden Cameras, Joel Gibb has never been one to shy away from controversial subject matters. So when the video to lead single 'Gay Goth Scene' appeared in October of last year depicting the harrowing tale of a kid being bullied at school, it set the scene for what was to follow.
AGE, their sixth album and first since 2009's Origin:Orphan comprises of the components that made The Hidden Cameras an alluring proposition from the outset. Still present are the orchestral segments that add a touch of grandiosity to Gibb's lyrical prowess, while the ever-changing, often-expanding line-up of musicians welcomes a couple of star-studded guest appearances: much-feted pianist Chilly Gonzales and Mary Margaret O'Hara, whose previous vocal collaborations include REM, Morrissey and Tom Waits.
With Gibb now residing in Berlin, the city's reputation as a pioneering base for electronic music has seemingly had an influence here. None more so than on opener 'Skin & Leather', possibly the most elegant paean to S&M bondage since Frankie said 'Relax' 30 years ago. 'Bread For Brat' sticks to the formula Gibb and his cohorts have perfected since the band's humble beginnings, its simplistic call-and-repeat chorus orating The Hidden Cameras pop sensibilities in dramatic style.
Not that AGE is one long uplifting celebration. Having briefly touched on 'Gay Goth Scene's poignant statement of intent, O'Hara's distinctive voice both haunting and soothing as Gibb offers platitudes like "It takes away your self esteem." 'Doom' also takes the downbeat road its title suggests, Gibb declaring "We're given chips, we don't feed 'em to the rich". Dub reggae enters the fray on 'Afterparty', its six minutes long breeze representing a vast departure from The Hidden Cameras usual melange, while 'Carpe Jugular' fuses Italo house piano with a disco beat together with an insistent chorus that begs "You keep coming on." To these ears anyway.
'Ordinary Over You' comes and goes in just over two minutes, its haughty, dramatic intro proving deceptive before giving way to a catchy, albeit short hookline and verse in between. Closing epic and current 45 'Year Of The Spawn' undoubtedly serves as AGE's most pristine moment. Demonstrating why The Hidden Cameras are still revered as one of this generation's finest purveyors of orchestral chamber pop, aided and abetted by Chilly Gonzales intricate piano skills, its arguably their most incisive composition since 2006's 'Death Of A Tune'.
Accomplished and polished, if a little slight compared to its predecessors, AGE doesn't quite equal the consistency of The Smell Of Our Own or Awoo but is, nonetheless, a welcome return for one of this century's finest songwriting collectives.
7Dom Gourlay's Score