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I once vowed to single-handedly hunt down whoever gave birth to the phrase 'new acoustic movement' for reasons I clearly don't need to explain. Most of the hapless saps thrown together under the term have long since plumbed new depths of mediocrity (Turin Brakes) or become so twee, listening to them became an experience not entirely unlike skipping through a lavender field to have picnics with woodland creatures (Kings Of Convenience). Alfie however, whilst never the most charismatic of gentlemen, have plugged away with impressive stamina. They began with dusty old songs found in junk shops, steadily polishing them and embracing poppier sounds. After the oddball psychedelia of last year's 'Do You Imagine Things?' then, 'Crying At Teatime' is something of a regression - it's a mature collection of songs, driving and vivid, but something's still missing.
Whatever magic ingredient is absent from 'Crying At Teatime', it's certainly not the first single and opening track 'Your Own Religion', which bounds out of speakers excitedly with celebratory pianos, whining synths and huge cymbal crashes. This may well be the loudest thing Alfie have ever laid to record and despite Lee Gordon's disaffected drawl (which sounds terrifically out of place), it has the sound of a band enjoying themselves. Similarly, the title track blooms with kitschy keyboards and summery harmonies and seems to catch them at their least listless. Sadly though, all this poppish bombast makes the comparatively languid neighbouring tracks sound all the more meandering and forgettable. I've had this album on repeat for many a week, and if pressed I could say very little about 'Colours' or 'Kitsune', both tracks which, though cleanly produced (a welcome difference), ultimately go nowhere and make no lasting impressions.
Thankfully though, there are several absolute gems nestled inside this album, 'Wizzo' being one of the strongest and well-executed songs in Alfie's history. Rich and colourful, it bustles and swings with Charlie Brown seesaw pianos, darting strings, bubbling keyboards and handclaps. Elsewhere, 'Look At You Now' winds itself around a plaintive, wiry melody, adorning it with echoing distortion and singsong vocals. Of all the tracks, this is where it's most possible to hear the ramshackle Alfie of old having fresh blood pumped through it. It's just a shame it doesn't always work as well as it should.