[9 October 2011]
“Slow Club is for lovers!”. That’s what should be tattooed on every Slow Club record. As with their tough-titled but blushing 2009 debut Yeah, So, Paradise is for soul mates, valentines, hickies, singin’ in the rain, ‘huggin’ it out’, winged babies armed with bow and arrows and couples who are “lovers but also, actually [sighs], best friends”. Yes, if there’s any squabbling to be done round here matey it’s damn well gonna be sorted before beddy-byes and then followed by a lovely, cosy cuddle before lights out, OK?
So what’s this paradise like anyways? Well the actual sound of Paradise is seemingly a little bit like a southern-fried baptism by (Arcade) Fire but obviously with the voice of an angel. Those angelic tones belong to Rebecca Taylor, who plays rib shakingly bad-ass drums too, alongside Charles Watson who spars with vocals and the odd diamond cuttin’ guitar riff. Paradise is the first toe-in-the-water, the head dunkin’ salvation and the (probably non-alcoholic) hillbilly barn dance afterwards, interspersed with a splash of lonesome pine reflection just before supper. But mostly it’s about being being giddy, being darn grateful you’re alive and throwing your bonnet in the air like you just don’t care. There’s a sense of pure euphoria in Paradise that will make you feel oddly guilty about everything bad you’ve ever done ever. Yes, especially that. It’s also who’da’thunk it? ‘tee hee’ hilarious that the Paradise sound itself doesn’t actually resonate from the murky depths of the Mississippi, but ol’ steeltown itself, Sheffield in ol’ Blighty. Who knew?
Accordingly for two such wide-eyed dreamers, they wear not only their hearts on their lily-white lace sleeves but their influences too. The ghosts of Win Butler’s Pied Pipers parade joyfully across a few tracks. Opener “Two Cousins” is all elephant drums, descending piano chords, and hallelujah fists aloft. It’s life-affirmingly grand but with a nagging seam of darkness on lines like “Hold on to where you’re from / It’s where your heart goes / When you die”. Ditto the singalong, sparky carnival march of “The Dog”, “I used to think you were a boy / You played the violin”, charms Charles cheekily. Elsewhere the sugar rushin’ “Where I’m Walking” borrows Bo Diddley’s big beat whilst the celebratory “If We’re Still Alive” mixes fizzy Vampire Weekend afro-pop with a drop of Kings of Leon dixie moonshine. It’s tailor made for leapin’ like a loon through cottonfields on a sweltering summers’ afternoon, kickin’ that bad ol’ devil out of your soul and lettin’ in the good Lord whilst corn-rows of bearded folk in kaftans play bongos and nod sagely behind you.
There are more reflective shelters where you get to put your feet up amongst all this whoopin’ and hollerin’. “Hackney Marsh” is a gently tender, six-string lullaby waltz with a surprising, sweet saxophone solo. “I’m on a raft of brand new beginnings” sighs Taylor, “I wanna ride through the marshes / But without you”. I’ll get my coat. Watson later takes the lead on the delicate “Horses Jumping”, sounding as lonesome ‘n’ childlike as Daniel Johnston. With a beat-up, softly plucked acoustic guitar and some intermittent dreamy, wonky, honky-tonk keys, it’s like swaying in a hammock, dozin’ in a late summer, happy-drunk haze. “Good love is hard to regret”, it muses. Over almost seven minutes it slowly swells into Abbey Road lushness atop a glissade of swooping strings. The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” also gets a spectral doo-wop makeover on the pretty blues “Never Look Back”. Despite the dynamic of gal drummer / guy guitarist, the only time Le Club sound remotely like the White Stripes is on “Gold Mountain”; an intimate, stripped n’ ragged face-off in the line of Johnny n’ June, “Don’t be scared to say you miss me”. Sparks will fly.
But Paradise is twice as nice when the sun sets. “Beginners” has the strange, lusty voodoo of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”. Tribal drums, willowy nightdresses and midnight liaisons over the moors, through the fog. It has a fiery rush of intensity and urgency that grabs you by the throat and drags you off into the night. This is always a good thing. The real treasure though is the jealous girl of “You, Earth or Ash”, which sits smouldering in the smoky, dimly-lit corner of the bar between Ryan Adams and Cowboy Junkies. “I’m exhausted / I know soon / You’ll go” sings Taylor, who reinvents her voice on almost every track, and sounds wondrous here, intensely broody one moment, howling the next. Aching, surly, steamy ‘n’ sensual and slipping into a hypnotic mechanical sway that almost evokes Springsteen’s walkin’ after midnight classic “Streets of Philadelphia”. It’s a darkness on the edge of town they should frequent more often.
These are songs for swinging lovers folks. Couples will hold hands brazenly, hearts will miss a beat, lips will be locked, and yes, lil’ biddy babies may be conceived with lyrics like, “I wanna live in paradise! I wanna see it like you did through your eyes”. If you’re a glass half-full romantico, Paradise is your kind of town baby. It’s not profound, unashamedly touchy-feely and yes, it teeters precariously close to pastiche…but it takes a dark, miserablist heart not to marvel at least some of this ‘ere Paradise. It’s a smart heart record that will bring you sunshine and inexplicably make you feel better about yourself. Even if you’re a Politician or work for the IRS. Well, possibly. But be warned, a tiny, teeny weeny part of you may secretly hope Lemmy from Motorhead turns up with a pack of Hells Angels tearing their Harleys through the pearly gates, before signaling for a lusty wench to pass you a bottle of tequila and drag you back to hell. If only for a lil’ while. We are in the business of “Rock n’ Roll” after all chaps.