Sometimes the best way to convey the most sincere feelings is to show that you don’t take them—or yourself—too seriously. It’s a lesson that the Lodger’s most obvious influences, like Belle and Sebastian and the Housemartins, have taught, and something that the promising Leeds band is still trying to get the hang of on its third album, Flashbacks. So even as they recall the twee aesthetic of the Pastels and Heavenly, just with a little more polish, band leader Ben Siddall and company still have work to do on striking the right tone and flashing just enough sense of humor to fit into a tradition they’re clearly trying to carry on.
But finding that sweet spot is no mean task, so being a bit off shouldn’t take away from the many things to like about the group. What the Lodger has going for it is an appealing combination of indie instincts and musical proficiency, matching the warm, fuzzy feel of cardigan pop with a little chamber rock sophistication, though never going too far in either direction. There’s definitely a sense of nostalgia to Flashbacks, but it’s less a derivative sort of hearkening back than an attempt to reinvent a subgenre based on such simple elements you’d think there was little to build on.
Yet that’s just what the Lodger generally succeeds in doing, especially on the album’s first few tracks. Letting the music express the yearning, the opener “The Back of My Mind” is a dynamic rocker that it wouldn’t sound out of place as the Lodger’s play for the big leagues, à la Travis or Snow Patrol. “Have a Little Faith in People” follows it by lightening and brightening things up, splitting the difference between the Housemartins and the Beautiful South by embellishing the playful liveliness of the former with some of the rich instrumentation reminiscent of the latter. The jangly, easy “Time to Wait” reinterprets Television Personalities, as Siddall does his best Dan Treacy imitation, his voice a little wobbly and the lyrics sweet enough without being cloying. All together, the leadoff numbers are shot through with stylistic variety while still maintaining a coherent, cohesive sound that’s warm and engaging.
It’s when the Lodger tries to up the emotional ante that Flashbacks loses some of its charm, as Siddall mistakes overwrought sentiment for earnestness and self-pitying for self-conscious depth. While “The End of the Affair” sounds clever enough with its shambling fast-slow stop-go structure, the vocals never rise above sounding trite: At some point, it’s hard to tell the difference between Siddall’s own lines and the clichés he riffs on, like when he sings, “Read my lips / The story’s over / And you must get to grips / With our future now that / We’ve lost our scripts”. Pushing twee pop up to and well beyond the limits of emo, “Welcome to My World” is an almost unbearable expression of hurt feelings that’s punctuated by a wincing chorus—“Before it’s goodbye and farewell / Welcome to my world, it’s hell!”—that can’t use either cheeky humor or youthful exuberance as an excuse.
In the end, though, it’s probably appropriate that the band’s lyrics are feeling around for an identity that’s comfortable in its own skin, since the Lodger has lots of room to grow and time to mature. You can hear more than a glimmer of that promise in the clever Delgados-lite of “Lost” and the pop romper “Stand Up!”, which takes the feel good vibes of latter-day Belle and Sebastian for inspiration. So there are some growing pains on Flashbacks, but they’re also the kind that a band like the Lodger could get past with a little more experience.