The Lightning Seeds are not so much a vanity project as a musical endeavor, an attempt to see if a veteran producer could hack it behind a microphone rather than a desk. But after working with Echo & the Bunnymen and the Fall, Ian Broudie the producer knew a little something about pop music. And even if his work as a producer resulted in eerie, powerful indie anthems, the Lightning Seeds have always trafficked in wispy, loveable pop. That’s not say that the Seeds are entirely a one-man show; Simon Rogers traditionally brought both a dance and classical aesthetic to the band’s pop ideology, while Ali Kane and Martyn Campbell make for an engaging addition. But the Lightning Seeds are Broudie’s project at heart, the product of a Liverpudlian youth and a fondness for warm, Beatlesy melodies.
Best known for their 1996 football anthem, “Three Lions”, the Seeds had a short flash of pop stardom. But they’ve been quiet for a decade now, and the fans they won for that brief Britpop moment have mostly turned away. Maybe that’s how it should be. The delicate pop sound of the Seeds was never really meant for anthems, on or off the court. It’s meant to be listened to in dreary bedrooms in towns whose moment of glory, like the Seeds themselves, has already passed.
On Four Winds, their sixth studio album, Broudie seems to want to try something different—if only slightly so. Take, for example, the title track’s angelic opening, which is less hypercharged Britpop than dreamy shoegaze. It’s not exactly miles away from what they’ve tried before, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Yet any attempts towards experimentation wind up discarded by the album’s end. Most of the record is straightforward pop, and that’s where the band seems most comfortable. But it’s also why Four Winds is only a good album, and not a great one.
Lyrics have never really been Broudie’s strongest asset, and Four Winds is no different. On “Don’t Walk on By”, he takes the initiative to ask “If all the moments of your life / Flash before your eyes / Would you laugh, or would you cry?” Or on “Things Just Happened”, where he describes the life of “That girl / She’s just a girl / In a hard-luck world”. Camus it’s not, but there’s a sweet simplicity to most of Broudie’s writing. His gift is for bouncy, lighter-than-air pop melody, and Four Winds has more pop hooks than Rihanna on a fishing trip. It’s numbers like “Ghosts” that remind us of that gift. A song reminiscent of both classic Britpop (familiar territory for the Seeds) and (slightly) more experimental fare, “Ghosts” is the album’s highlight and a tough number to match.
The truth is that when the songs start to blend together, some of the charm gets lost. And when “The Story Goes” sounds a lot like the amiable country twang of “Things Just Happened”, which sounds a bit like the gentle melody of “All I Do”, Four Winds threatens to fall apart. Broudie’s Liverpudlian charm will only go so far to carry an album that, at best, has only a handful of memorable tracks.
Four Winds definitely has its charms, but after a long period without new music from Broudie, it’s not quite the return-to-form we’ve the right to expect. It’s perfectly pleasant, at times (like the fuzzy “I Still Feel the Same”). But other numbers are either dull or blatantly derivative (McCartney could sue over “On a Day Like This”, but odds are he’s steering clear of courtrooms for the time being).
“I was born for this / All I want is this”, Broudie exclaims on the album’s closing track. Which is all very nice, but as the culmination of a varied, and occasionally vital, career, is Four Winds really all the Lightning Seeds had in them?