[28 July 2009]
Trashcan Sinatras have just released In the Music, their fifth album in 20 years. If you remember when they were called The Trash Can Sinatras, then you’re probably a middle-aged Smiths fan who was quite happy, way back in 1990, to discover another literate band who played catchy jangle-pop with clever lyrics. Their first album, Cake, and its more sophisticated successor, 1993’s I’ve Seen Everything, both found moderate success on the UK album charts and spawned a few US alt-radio singles. After that, you were either a Trashie fan—in it for the long haul; dialing up to primitive websites to look for news; pestering indie record store clerks—or you likely assumed the band had broken up and you moved on with your life.
Obviously, no, the guys hung in there—aging gracefully, even. 1996’s A Happy Pocket measures up well against the first two records, offering plenty of gorgeous melodies and indelible hooks, even if the tempos of the tunes continued to slow somewhat. This trend continued on the long awaited (by those same few, beleaguered fans) Weightlifting, which finally surfaced in 2004. Along with a streamlined band name, Trashcan Sinatras introduced an element of Al Green-inspired old school soul into their music. They may have over-indulged in this occasionally cheesy trend, but they also beat fellow Brits Amy Winehouse and Duffy to the punch.
With In the Music, the band’s lovely new record, they’ve concocted a consistently satisfying listen, pushing the soul mostly to the side and turning out their most mature and elegant album to date. If that seems like a backhanded way of saying that Trashcan Sinatras have gotten old and boring but still sound nice, well let’s just acknowledge right now that these guys are getting a little gray around the temples, but so are their listeners. So, while these ten new tunes won’t pump your heart rate up, they sound great while lazing around on a Sunday afternoon.
The group haven’t given up entirely on the ol’ jangly pop song, though. Opener “People” bounces along on a crisp, mid-tempo snare crack and the band’s patented brand of impossibly delicious guitar arpeggios, while Frank Reader sings about a renewed affection for one’s partner after witnessing “People who fall in love / Down in the city street.” Catchier still is “Prisons”, which boasts plenty of Reader’s love of rhyme: “Decisions / Grow into visions / End up in prisons.”
The bulk of In the Music‘s material, however, works at a slower pace. “Should I Pray?” shuffles along like a ‘50s slow dance and, improbably, features harmony vocals from Carly Simon(!). Well, it turns out Ms. Anticipation is producer Andy Chase’s neighbor (thus raising the probability of the event occurring), but it’s still an odd pairing. It could also be a recipe for corniness, but the song bears a surprising degree of gravitas, as Reader questions the value of faith (“Am I talking to myself in these prayers?”). Advance single “Oranges and Apples” isn’t an obvious choice for courting radio programmers. On the album, it’s over seven minutes long, but even an edited version would still be subject to the track’s gentle lilt, pastoral feel, and surrealist lyrics penned in tribute to Syd Barrett. Though clearly not tailored to Top 40 playlists, the song is a beauty.
It’s been a couple of decades since The Trash Can Sinatras got us dizzy by “Circling the Circumference” and giving us “Hayfever”. A generation later, they’re still crafting high quality music. Only, now, they’re sound tracking lower octane occasions in their listeners’ lives. Late nights out carousing have been replaced by meals with friends. Trashcan Sinatras’ latest album would be well suited to such occasions. So, relax your old bones and enjoy spending some time In the Music.