Evening news got you down? Life giving you a few rough turns lately? What you need is a healthy dose of pleasant love songs with clever lyrics. Take two listens of Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me and call me in the morning.
The latest long-player from this Melbourne-based trio, their sixth official release, offers up more of the same, a fine thing considering how adept The Lucksmiths are at what they do. If you adore sunny twee pop with lyrical twists, then this is a classic worth your attention.
The Lucksmiths are comprised of guitarist Marty Donald, bassist Mark Monnone and percussionist/vocalist Tali White—who all write, although Donald pens the majority of the songs. Schoolmates who first joined together over a common love of The Smiths, their music covers some of that similar Morrissey terrain, pleasant melodies with poetic lyrics that run contrary to what you’d expect. They’ve built a devoted cult base to date, having toured far and wide, but this collection should bring more widespread notice and deservedly so.
The Lucksmiths’ music is a happy amalgam of many influences—The Smiths, The Housemartins, The Wedding Present, The Pastels, Jonathan Richman, The Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian and even some Kinks thrown in for good measure. Their specialty is catchy love songs, upbeat and slower tempo, with simple yet beautiful arrangements at once easy and familiar. Many of these 14 tracks grab you immediately at first listen, then continue to hold you with the power of their lyrics. The savage lyrics are what propel The Lucksmiths’ above the fray.
Cynical and witty and poignant and fun, these gents have a way with the wordplay, often bordering on the verge of “too clever”. In the opening track “Music to Hold Hands To,” we get the following: “If you arose by any other name / You’d smell as sweet / And you’d look just the same / I could never understand you / Hating music to hold hands to / Sometimes something you can dance to is the last thing that you need.”
In “Synchronised Sinking”, we’re offered a tale of barroom confession via wordplay like “Something’s obviously wrong / Your face is all day long / It was lovely when you laughed / Come on, please get it off your chest / It’s a commonplace but I’d suggest / A problem shared is a problem halved.” The lyrics play on nautical themes (“Why don’t you let go of your boy and see / You’ve lost none of your buoyancy?”), as the woman in question is “going down with the relationship”.
Another great track “Broken Bones” tells the unlikely tale of a lover who fell so hard from his lover’s clutches that he wound up on crutches—hence the catchy refrain “Coffee cups, promises, sure, but I’ve never broken bones before.” While “Don’t Bring Your Work to Bed” is solid advice for anyone in this new millennium.
As thrilled as I am with these lyrics, let me not understate the music. This time The Lucksmiths have draped their romantic folk-rock offerings in tasteful strings and horns, with spare, clean production. “First Cousin” is a gorgeous yet simple ballad that holds its own with any Magnetic Fields’ offering. “Self-Preservation”—perhaps the catchiest track of all—could be an upbeat offering from The Housemartins of way back when. While Tali White’s voice fall a little short of Paul Heaton’s, the addition of guest voice Kellie Sutherland (of Architecture in Helsinki) on tracks like “How to Tie a Tie” invites comparison with The Beautiful South as well.
Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me doesn’t change the world, but it hearkens back to twee-pop classics of years past while also providing intelligent songs for today’s audience. As such, it is the perfect pop prescription for these postmodern times—defying popular conventions with songs that are stunning in their beauty and powerful in their simplicity.
While this music doesn’t have a fashionably commercial following at present, The Lucksmiths’ talent and charm demand more attention. These Australians make music they like, and seem content not to compromise their pop-indie standards along the way. The many gems to be found on Why That Doesn’t Surpise Me explore love and love lost in ways that aren’t cliché-ridden. As such, this latest release might just be what the doctor ordered to get them that larger audience. As Tali White once put it: “The Lucksmiths are just friends you haven’t met yet.” If you like The Smiths or The Housemartins or Belle & Sebastian, I urge you to make their musical acquaintance now.
// Notes from the Road
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