By having to please the NME tastemakers almost as much as the music buying community, being cool isn’t so much a suggestion as it is the job description of being a British rock band. As much as the general public claims to embrace the Everyman, all of that can vanish in a second when faced with unassailable coolness and achievement of things far out of the reach of normal people. Think of it in athletic terms; for every newspaper writer that praises the likes of Tim Duncan for “playing the right way” there are thousands of fans that will watch Kobe Bryant play what is essentially 1-on-5 basketball for hours. There’s a premium in being awed.
From this standpoint, Delays don’t stand a chance. They might be the least cool band ever, and not in that “they’re cool because they’re regular blokes” way that Mike Skinner or the Arctic Monkeys built their rep on. Greg Gilbert’s androgynous vocals are as otherworldly as Antony’s, but while the latter sings soul-crushing torch ballads, the former writes pop nuggets like “Nearer Than Heaven” and “Hey Girl”. Even Coldplay has touted Kraftwerk in a very public way. But what influenced the Delays when they released Faded Seaside Glamour? Probably The La’s, The Cocteau Twins, and house versions of Sara McLachlan songs that are often heard pumping out of spinning classes. The Delays aren’t arch and sexy like Franz Ferdinand, bracing and political like Bloc Party, smack-addled like the Libertines, or even snidely academic like The Futureheads. Ever see that Zales commercial where some guy sets new standards for being whipped by renewing his wedding vows in the middle of New York City? Having their song, “Long Time Coming” play in the background was perfect. It was sweet, heartwarming and yet unquestionably corny; that’s the Delays.
Fortunately, none of that stopped Faded Seaside Glamour from winning over nearly every person who didn’t get their copy directly from Rough Trade’s promo department. Still, Delays appear to want you to take them more seriously. As was the case with “Wanderlust”, “You and Me” sets the tone for the rest of its album with a stratospheric falsetto incantation and a overly synthetic instrumental loop. But while the steel drums and stately tempo of “Wanderlust” was the perfect way to introduce the rainy summer day beauty of Faded Seaside Glamour, the string patch on “You and Me” is minor-keyed, somber and urgent. Then the drummer mashes his foot on the gas and rips the beat from “Love Is a Battlefield” or “Boys of Summer” that was intentionally made for drivers looking to see how willing local authorities are to enforce the speed limit.
For four and a half minutes, Delays hurtle forward like never before, but it’s still unmistakably a Delays song of love gone awry. Not too many singers can lean on a hook like “I don’t have the will to fight my president or his designs” with the understanding that he’s not even being remotely political. Remember, it’s “my president”, not “the president” or “our president”. Shoot, the UK doesn’t even have a president. Either way, “You and Me” serves notice; Delays still couldn’t rock their way out of a box of fabric softener, but You See Colours does what a sophomore album is supposed to, adding new, darker shades to their core sound while being propulsive in a way that sounds like the tracks were tested out on the road. In other words, harder, better, faster, stronger.
As “You and Me” makes clear, most of the touchstones for “You See Colours” are cherrypicked from the Reagan Years. First single “Valentine” gives nods to brittle synthpop, “This Town’s Religion”‘s chiming guitars owe a great debt to U2 and “Given The Time” wields a Pixies-esque bassline. While these subtle shifts imply other acts, the songs on You See Colours never sound like they can be done by anyone other than Delays, a lot of that due to Gilbert’s alternately bratty and beautiful vocals tying the whole project together.
The stunning “Valentine” is the most remarkable of the experiments. While the swirling rapture of “Wanderlust” and “Nearer Than Heaven” seemed to beg for a dancefloor reinterpretation, “Valentine” cuts out the middleman and turns out to be its own disco remix, riding a fantastic four-on-the-floor rhythm to its glowing, enormous chorus. If this is what “indie dance” music was supposed to sound like, I’d believe the hype. For its first 10 seconds, “Given the Time” sounds like any garden variety post-Interpol pop act before hitting the hook, a gorgeous harmony that makes Gilbert’s typically vague and possibly meaningless lyrics (“slow, slow me down”) sound majestic. It’s the same sort of immaculate pop nugget that “Hey Girl” was, but outfitted in more subdued colors and emotions.
As was the case with Faded Seaside Glamour, the high points of You See Colours set an unattainable standard for the rest of the album and it can feel a bit unbalanced. Nothing is filler, per se, but some of the more trad Britpop numbers are a bit of a comedown between the obvious standouts. “Winters Memory of Summer” is a dead ringer for one of the “Kiss Me”-era B-sides from The Cure’s “Join the Dots” collection and the stein-swinging shuffle of “Lillian” is a laddish step in the wrong direction.
Delays aren’t the kind of band that will make “album of the year” albums, anyway. That kind of coolness is out of their reach. But if never losing its playability is what makes an album resonant to you, You See Colours is the one of two Delays long-players you absolutely need to own.