Whether or not you enjoy All That We've Become, the long-awaited debut full-length from Society will, I contend, depend on whether you like your listening experiences to feel comfortable, familiar even, or whether you prefer to be challenged, jolted from your stupor into an exciting new musical universe. Isn't it better when an album manages to do both at once? Isn't it? Well, here's one that does. The collaboration between Jamie Girdler and Brendan Lynch has been shrouded in mystery for four years, since the band's debut single, the album's title track, was released. It caught an unsuspecting listening public entirely off-guard. As will this album.
On 'Will to Win', Girdler is “suffering the will to win, cos I don't own a single thing” as an expansive rolling smorgasboard of sound reveals itself beneath his keening croon. On 'Protocol' he veers dangerously into Bono-esque territory vocally, but the track is more than saved by a colossal musical backdrop of Rhodes, guitars and brass. It's a brilliant song, full of energy, even panache, a trait all too often lacking in modern pop music.
At times, the sense that we've been here before is pervasive. 'The Fear the Hate' would have fitted beautifully alongside anything released by The Last Shadow Puppets in recent times, though effortlessly surpassing their creativity and cohesion. ‘Closed Eyes’ is a gorgeous mid-tempo, largely acoustic folk-tinged song, which allows Girdler’s inner Ashcroft to come storming to the fore. There’s no denying the vocal similarity between Society’s leading man and the former frontman for The Verve and it would be a poor analysis that failed to mention it. However, the power and emotion Girdler displays throughout this album, beautifully harnessed, unstintingly by the deft production and instrumentation of Lynch, makes the songs of Society sound vital, important even.
Two highlights are the instrumentals ’Stockowski’ and ‘Glug’. Whilst many albums use instrumental tracks as mere interludes, respite before the return of the primary fare, ’Sockowski’ feels crucial to the running of this suite. It showcases for the first time the trip-hop elements which are so crucial to the sound of Society but which can be submerged under the fairly consistent apparent search for the next Bond theme (for which, on this album, there are several strong contenders). Hearing this track and then, later, the similar ‘Glug’ induced in me a longing that Lynch and Girdler had mined this rich seam of possibility further on this record. These two are the songs which make them truly stand out from the crowd
There are only a couple of mis-steps. ‘The Hustler’ feels like a sub-Oasis dirge, with overpowering string, whilst ‘We All Have a Price’, the album’s closer, feels too skewed to truly make sense. Everything is (presumably deliberately) a bit ‘off’, including some of the vocal tuning. The track does a great job of helping the album close, feeling like a previously vibrant musical experience fading to nothing, but somehow it just doesn’t quite feel right.
Perhaps that’s because elsewhere, on ‘Commiserations’ and ‘The Smoke’ the band have shown us another string to their bow, taking in the best of artists like Danger Mouse, particularly his album with Daniele Luppi, Rome and putting their own slant on things. Both of these spaghetti western-infused pieces are real album highlights.
You may gather from the hither and thither nature of this review that All That We’ve Become is a hard one to pin down. Society, as has been their wont since the release of their debut single in 2012, are a hard band to pin down too. The feeling persists that this is just the way they want it. Perhaps they are just the kind of band the world wants now, too.
7Haydon Spenceley's Score