It’s strange how certain folks return unexpectedly, isn’t it? First Lazarus, then Pixies, then those Mitchell Brothers, then... Charley Stone from Gay Dad. Yes people! The anticipation can finally cease! For now the first proper album from Spy 51 emerges from a cloud of its own mystique – seeing as it’s a whole eight years since the band's debut single and three since their first mini-album, Play For Your Life is the closest that the post-Britpop guitar climate has to its own Chinese Democracy.
And in a funny sort of way, it’s almost like a breath of fresh air – well, I say fresh, more like welcoming the scent of stale sweat-coated Ben Sherman shirts after having to endure years of smoggy skag fumes, just because it’s nice to embrace a change. You see, after half a century of trying to laden a wealth of new bands with a variation on ‘they want to be The Strokes’ or ‘they want to be The Libertines’, it’s something of a muted relief, even for nostalgia’s sake, having to go back to saying ‘they want to be the Manics’. (Calm down, I mean post-Richey MSP. Kinesis this lot ain’t.)
In terms of your trad-indie fare it’s not that bad – there’s no sign of fraternising with Weller anywhere for a start, and I’m not having to resort to references like (shudder) Proud Mary. But for a band having spent so long trying to, as the term would have it, ‘hone their sound’, it seems all too easy picking out reference points. Particularly from the vocals of Lea Andrews, who at a croaky and strained best suggests tones of latter-day James Dean Bradfield himself, but all too often comes across with the spineless sort of warble last heard flittering from the throats of Mark Greaney of JJ72 or Him Out Of Easyworld.
Musically it’s hardly that inspiring either - ‘Spanish Reggae’ is nowhere near as promising as the title suggests, diverting from the template of predictable strum-structures and heads-down driving FM rock that’s prevalent on the rest of the album by including a slight offbeat. (Send me a postcard from Babylon, lads!) Aside from maybe the plaintive sheen of occasional ‘chillaxing’ songs (the virtually-comatose ‘Start Something’, the harmonically-confused closer ‘Rain And Sun’) and the slightly more upbeat relief of ‘Too Much Hey Hey’, that’s basically your lot.
Well, it may have been a long time coming but Play For You Life, while hardly unpleasant, does too little to grab anyone with anything by the anywheres. At this rate you should expect a pretty good Spy 51 album by 2014. Can’t we just have Salad back, please?
4Thomas Blatchford's Score