Brighter was a group who shone briefly, yet never really got much attention. Some 16 years after the release of Laurel, an extremely rare issue, the songs from that album have returned in a re-mastered, compiled format. The Singles 1989-1992 release turned several heads in 2003, but many thought that the cupboard was bare after that. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, as Brighter have dusted off these 20 rarities to create the same melodic and melancholic indie rock that endeared them to sinfully so few so many years ago.
The first eight tracks from this collection are from that Laurel release, beginning with “Christmas”, a light, airy, quasi-Beatles number that would be criminal not to enjoy. Think of the Go-Betweens and these songs seem to come to life, with a gorgeous melody mixed with thoughtful lyrical content. Fans of the Smiths or Morrissey would also lap this material up, as there seems to be a bittersweet hook within each nugget. Just as pleasing and refreshing is the mid-tempo and somewhat moody “Frostbite”, which could be mistaken now for a Snow Patrol b-side. At the same time, an effort like “Summer Becomes Winter” has a sweet pop feeling that is separated by the Stone Roses only by Mani’s groovy bass line. It definitely has a timeless quality about it from start to finish.
If you’re not a fan of this soft, melody-centric brand of pop, you will spend the hour dying a slow painful death. But if you love this sound, then you can’t do anything but grin after a simple, small town tale dubbed “Something to Call My Own”, a reflective slice-of-life tune that doesn’t sound whiny, despite the lead singer’s somewhat fey vocal approach. The first attempt at a somewhat edgy, punchy pop-rock is during “Ocean Sky”. The guitars give it far more bite than earlier songs, but it never loses its direction, winding itself around the airtight and surefire hook. And while most of these you’ll find yourself hitting the repeat button over, it’s this one that is the first great highlight.
Generally, the album sticks to the softer side of Brighter, judging by the adorable “Maybe”, which has some staggered harmonies that gives the song more weight. And, fortunately, this song again, much like “Ocean Sky”, shifts into another gear when the rhythm section chimes in. Brighter—which consisted of lead singer Keris Howard, bassist Alison Cousens, and drummer Alex Sharkey, rarely falter on this album—even on the light and catchy “If I Could See” that finds them raking over similar ground as earlier efforts. The songs do seem to start blending into one another roughly halfway through, although one would be hard not to take notice of the gleeful and delightful “Wallflower”, which has a chorus that you have to sing along to while taking on a Cure-ish charm. This is also quite audible later on for “Looks Like Rain”, which is cut from the same cloth as “Boys Don’t Cry”.
Although the band keep it relatively simple, they’re not adverse to adding some instruments, resulting in a nice and quaint effort like “Don’t Remember” taking on an ethereal quality thanks to the angelic keyboard or synthesizers thrown in. This electro-pop vibe is a hit and miss affair, though, when the group offer up “Next Summer”, a rather shoddy and sub-par tune. It’s the rare exception to a high quality, excellent rule, a rule that carried the band into another four-pack of ditties that compose most of the homestretch. Recorded in 1990, a song like “Hope to God” or “There Is Nothing We Can Do?” begins to sound like song number one, or was it two… it might have been the sixth song… or the seventh. Anyway, it’s still darn good. Brighter were fine at crafting songs that will never reach radio airwaves, rarely be heard by the masses and hailed as great by only a few. Luckily, I fall into the minority.