[4 August 2010]
If chief members of the ‘90s British indie scene all lived together in a suburban US neighborhood, Luke Haines would be the neighbor who hands out tampered candy apples to trick-or-treaters. In today’s Brit indie scene, no one comes close to managing the balance of meditative lyrical stings and plush pop harmonies perfected by Haines and the Auteurs. Those content in handing out Mallomars, however, are as prevalent as they were two decades ago. In fact, few have done little to even look to Haines as an aspiring force; few, that is, until the Indelicates came along.
The Indelicates, a duo comprised of Simon Clayton and Julia Clark-Lowes, released a single in 2006 called “We Hate the Kids” and thereafter set forth establishing a signature sound and mission on debut album American Demo. For their follow up, Songs for Swinging Lovers, their modus operandi—lyrical attacks on society coated over with giddy indie pop hooks—has been infused with a swish of cabaret. The resulting concoction is dazzlingly close to perfection.
If you’re questioning just how entertaining dismay can be, look no further than the album’s lead-off track, “Europe”. It’s an assault on Euro trash and the like, set to music that comes across like the Jacques Brel standard “Amsterdam” if it had a surf guitar in the chorus. “Money” has the undiluted aggression of early Manic Street Preachers, a development thrilling in and of itself, but no match for the scathing highs that follow. “We Love You, Tania” is a spirited tune concerning Patty Hearst. Luke Haines has covered similar subject matter at least once, and his influence really seethes out here, particularly whenever Simon sings the “When you’re other to everyone / You’re a valuable girl” line that ends each chorus. Despite recycled subject matter, the duo find new and intriguing things to say, all the while ensuring that the song is musically jaunty enough to occupy your headspace for days on end.
All this also applies to “Flesh”, which seduces the listener with a tantalizing trumpet, then stuns with the brilliant opening line, “Hey girls / Let’s see if we can bring out the rapists in the new men”. Sweet, harmonic choruses lead into blunt verses that find Clark-Lowes addressing the problems with feminism’s current model, and doing so with some of the best lyrics of the year. “Beauty isn’t truth, it’s just youth / It’s adaptive and it’s elastic” is a personal favorite. The subject matter is again nothing new, but when presented in such a way, the impression it leaves is unmatched.
Although Songs for Swinging Lovers peaks early on, its second half is still more convincing of the Indelicates’ greatness than ten years’ worth of “Next Big Thing” issues of NME. “Savages” packs a few great allusions to Aldous Huxley’s science fiction classic Brave New World and ties the album—from the subject matter to the cover art of a hanged Clayton and Clarke-Lowes—together with three simple lines: “And the world has no need of the songs that we sang / We are savages you and I / And we will hang, hang, hang”. “Roses” dances a tad too close to Jacques Brel’s “Sons Of”, musically, but there is always something to love in a murder ballad, especially a murder ballad delivered in vocals as full and tragic as Clark-Lowes’s. The proper end to the album comes with “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, a critique on the affectation of angst dressed up as an agonizingly pretty ballad. Although two bonus tracks follow, “I Don’t Care If It’s True” and an acoustic version of “Savages”, it succeeds as an astute closing statement.
Released digitally in April in a “pay what you wish” format, Songs for Swinging Lovers baits our cash with every cleverly biting verse, in every glittering hook. There are few today who match the Indelicates’ desire to make songs that awaken your limbs, your brain, and your funny bone, but this is of little consequence. With Songs for Swinging Lovers, Clayton and Clark-Lowes have earned a place alongside their crabby and dissatisfied forefathers.