The Windmills are one of a plethora of British pop bands who have the melodies and harmonies needed to break into the spotlight, but for either time or circumstances, churn out great songs to a miniscule yet devoted audience. With one album under its belt with 2000’s Edge of August, the band are back with another melodic series of highbrow pop gems that could be compared to Echo & The Bunnymen as well as early Pulp or the undervalued (except in South Korea) Rialto. Beginning with a gorgeous mid-tempo alternative guitar rock arrangement in “Unkiss”, lead singer and guitarist Roy Thirlwall has a lot in common with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker in terms of his tone and delivery.
“Pounds, Shillings and Pence” is another strong tune that falls in between the Cure and the Smiths, if that’s possible. Guitars here resemble the cool and collected approach Johnny Marr made so fashionable while the rhythm guitars have that distinct Cure sound. The tune winds quite easily through its three minutes and change. “Taxi Fare” is probably the album’s first of many shining moments, a deliberately paced ballad that describes British urban life. Picking up the tempo when the harmonica kicks in, the song moves to and fro between styles at a lovely leisurely rhythm. If there is a downside to the song, it’s perhaps because it tends to be far too tight, not allowing for the groove to continue an extra minute or two.
A lot of British groups rely on simply being British and dropping the lilt into shoddy lyrics just for style or brownie points. But the Windmills don’t opt for that cliché, especially on “When It Was Winter”. Sounding more like Morrissey here than at any other point on the record, Thirlwall reflects on the past and love gone astray. “I don’t care anymore, I don’t care anymore”, he sings just slightly above a rich sonic landscape. The brevity of the songs, though, brings to mind current Brit pop darlings Belle and Sebastian. Probably the nadir of the album is “She’s So Hard”, average attempts both musically and lyrically. “Get me out of here,” Thirlwall says, perhaps showing a deeper meaning for the listener. Although it doesn’t drag, the song shouts unoriginal.
Side two begins with a rousing and rollicking “Boxing Glove”, with drummer Pete Spicer coming to the forefront. The use of horns and a rather funky bass line propels it along, making it quite comparable to Pulp’s His N’ Hers album. The Go Betweens are another group that comes to mind when listening to “Cloud Five”, a downbeat affair with piano and tension that builds before disappearing. The wording of the ‘80s synth flavored “Be Groovy Or Leave” is a bit difficult at times, but the song has a lush flow and fluidity to it. The echo effects also give it a nice texture. “Untouch” is basically a musical reprise of “Unkiss” with an identical tempo and arrangement and barely audible harmonies.
The Windmills will never be accused of rejecting a good musical idea simply because of its time period or hipness. “Drug Autumn” reverts back to gorgeous if bleak guitar chords over some brief keyboard punctuation. “What I gave up was far more precious than what I gained / But by then it was already too late,” Thirlwall sings with as much Robert Smith reflection and disappointment as possible. The Windmills have created a real corker of an album, one that probably will sink commercially. Perfect for those who, to quote a line from the last track enjoy “listening to Lou Reed records and never going out”. If only pop bands honed their craft this well.
// Notes from the Road
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