Blimey, this fall’s looking good for established indie, isn’t it? At the back end of September alone, we’ve been graced with The Death of a King, and the third album of Sheffield legends Milburn, Time. Just after that, Liam Gallagher’s debut solo EP is out in October, and his older brother has recently announced dates for his third album.
Cheers lads, more work for me.
If you’ve listen to Rev and friends’ previous excellent album, Mirrors, you’ll know that their more recent work is worlds apart from their early numbers, which still grace clubs around the North, but there’s no ‘Bassline’, or ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ here, I’m afraid. But unlike most indie wonders, McClure’s gang of musical magicians are a progressive bunch, looking forward with experimentation, rather than backwards with nostalgic attempts of recreation. In this sense, Death of a King certainly holds a few similarities to their 2015 effort.
I was initially worried that this album would be a fancy presentation of the feature singles, surrounded by filler. I then realised I was being unfaithful to one of my key principles; you’ve got to listen to an album in order, from start to finish. Going back to the beginning, the pieces began to slide into place.
Opener ‘Miss Haversham’ gets off to a slow, plodding start, which demands your attention through emphatic, convicted drumming with a slow build to a culmination brimming with slide guitars, of which I’m a fan. However, the album doesn’t let you settle.
One of the few quarrels I had with The Death of a King was the overall feel and flow of the album. My apologies, because that sounds like an incredibly ill-advised, pretentious and wanky thing to say, but I feel that there could have been a bit more cohesion between tracks. ‘Miss Haversham’ and ‘Auld Reekie Blues’ are both good tunes individually, but the former abruptly cuts into the latter with little grace, like having a lovely conversation rudely interrupted.
‘Auld Reekie Blues’ is the second single from the album, and it serves as one of the strongest tracks: An upbeat tempo contrasts lyrics focused on an longing, hopeful return home. I feel this is where Reverend and the Makers are at their best, banging out tunes that could be played at your local working men’s club, and their performance wouldn’t be a gig, it’d be a ‘turn’ instead. Old folk would look around the room and enquire to each other what the evening’s turn is, before someone would reply, ‘a reverend I think, it might be Belinda’s son’.
Additionally, you can’t fault any of these tracks for outstaying their welcome. Mirrors was acclaimed by Noel Gallagher to be similar to a great concept album, and this is still present here. Tracks are concise, and rightfully so. Quirky instrumental pieces like ‘Bang Saray’, jaunty tunes worthy of being played in a 1920s speakeasy like ‘Carlene’ and jarring, almost uncanny tracks like ‘Black Cat’ would risk becoming tedious if they went on any longer. In their final form, they serve as well-crafted examples of the band’s versatility and fantastic grasp on a plethora of musical subtilties. But every now and then, these compressed, almost bite-size tunes do leave you longing for something a little but more filling, as the internal narratives and messages of songs are often ripe for additional exploration. Put this down to my own indecisiveness, as I appreciate that the tunes don’t mess around, but this can make them seem like a sly tease, coaxing us in for more.
So, at this point we’re past the halfway point of the album, and we’ve missed out some belters, too. Debut single ‘Too Tough to Die’ is just as good as you remember it, spearheading the proper rock elements on the album, with a slide element that would make Jack White blush. The riff is actually banned in some countries due to its volatile nature, and the accompanying backline reinforce the explosive guitars perfectly. While it is an explicit, confident and bombastic tune, nothing is done in excess, thankfully.
Things settle down briefly for the wonderful ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’, which bleeds effortlessly into the aforementioned ‘Black Cat’. After these two tracks, the rock aspect of the album begins to shine through with the hidden sinister melody of ‘Autumn Leaves’; a guitar laden with fuzz makes for an incredibly dirty sound, more reminiscent of rock giants like Queens of the Stone Age, rather than any Northern indie band. This continues into the accessible, easily danceable tune ‘Time Machine’. If neither of these tracks are made into singles, I’ll probably eat my hat, (if I’m wearing one).
Things calm down once again with ‘Juliet Knows’, a quiet, introspective offering that poises you for the finale of ‘Black Flowers’. This last track best defines the album; divided into three distinct parts, the sultry, dark opening is a brilliant foundation for Laura’s vocals. This then transitions into a brief, upbeat middle part, before closing with a fitting, foreboding lullaby commencing “now the party’s over”. While it’s not exactly the easiest track to listen to, it offers a fitting end to an album which tries a little bit of everything.
There’s something to please everyone, thanks to its presentation as an almost conceptual piece. It seems that with these last two albums, the group have made music purely for themselves, and it shows. While the abstract nature of the album may leave you desiring some more extensive, more commercial tunes from time to time, The Death of a King, just like its predecessor, Mirrors, has that tell-tale shine which is only produced when some heart and soul has gone into it.
Get on The Death of a King, and get on the deluxe version for a wonderful tune featuring the lyrical lord John Cooper Clarke. Reverend and the Makers are touring very, very soon, so check them out for all their dates.
Images courtesy of Reverend and the Makers’ Facebook Page.