When you come from a city where some bands have achieved a great amount of success, it can sometimes be a royal pain in the arse. You’re happy that people are paying attention to the music scene there, and, hopefully, this will lead to labels scouting around the various bars and venues seeking out talent. However, for every person with a label, you often have 34 writers who quickly lump you into the sound that the big, star band with the initials F.F. created. And there’s the rub with Glasgow band the Cinematics. You’re not trying to imitate their style or rip them off, it’s just that the comparisons on this side of the keyboard are too easy not to ignore. Maybe that’s what they’re getting at with an album cover depicting a typewriter engulfed in flames.
The Scottish group’s debut album is friendly, inviting, charming, and infectious, but on listening to A Strange Education, one would be hard pressed not to think of four other Glaswegians who have recently become big household names. Nonetheless, this 13-track album (with four bonus videos included) has plenty of zip and a darker, New Order or Joy Division tone to much of it. Kicking off with “Race to the City”, lead singer Scott Rinning delivers lyrics with a rather no-nonsense style, while drummer Ross Bonney hits the almost obligatory hi-hat to keep the proceedings swimming along. What seals this song, though, is that the bridge isn’t as dance-friendly as it is guitar driven. It’s a good start, and would draw comparisons to… damn it, can’t mention them.
There’s a great sense of freedom on the ensuing “Break”, which seems to shift slowly but steadily into a higher gear without breaking the mould or pushing the boundaries. The guitar work of Rinning’s rhythm and lead guitarist Ramsay Miller, in tandem with bassist Adam Goemans, makes for some intricate but terribly catchy licks. But perhaps their best work is saved for when they flesh out things and just ride the groove, time constraints completely forgotten about. This is the case with the gorgeous title track, which seems to play into a Cure-meets-the Killers blueprint that could rarely be pulled off quite as spectacularly. Rinning plays the role of dramatist perfectly, while the crescendo builds into this large, epic, grandiose wave. And even at more than five minutes, you still leave with the feeling you’ve been shortchanged, albeit slightly.
The band’s darker side comes through on the slightly unnerving “Human”, which has all the trademarks of a good but not great song, one that will be unfortunately glossed over for the singles. It might take a few listens to appreciate, but it’s well worth the time if another grand finale is what you’re after, a la “Lost” from The Cure. This also seems to set up “Chase” quite nicely. Though it sounds morbid initially, it has a definite spring in its step, bringing to mind bands like the Delays, but with a bit more bite.
The one song on the album that leaves you slightly disappointed is “Rise & Fall”, which lives up to its name, taking the listener up and down but never quite reaching the heights it genuinely merits. On a great album, this would be a song that grabs you by the gullet, but here it’s just one of those “oh, look at that, isn’t that nice?” moments. However, they get their mojo running again with the tight and radio-friendly dance-rock groove entitled “Keep Forgetting”, which brings to mind Franz… damn it, I keep forgetting. Won’t happen again, promise. The tune is a great number that would seem to fit well anywhere in a live set list, but especially as the main set closer.
As for the homestretch, the Cinematics lose no steam and don’t simply punch the time clock with the chipper, foot-stomper “Ready Now”, which is well worth the shin splits that would come minutes after having this on constant replay. In fact, this album actually gets better the longer it goes, leaving one wanting a hell of a lot more than the baker’s dozen offerings. A perfect example of this is the high-octane but airtight “Maybe Someday” that again has some great interplay between Rinning and Miller. But possibly the crowning achievement on this album is the Cure-ish “Alright”, which is so much more than alright. Okay, so maybe I’m gushing a bit, much like I did when I, along with maybe 50 other people, saw Franz… oh for !#$@% sake! The Cinematics are their own band, people, and a very, very, very strong one at that!