The Contrast: Fade Back In

[13 May 2004]

By Gary Glauber

The Contrast have refined their sound some and made it even more their own on their third album, the newly released Fade Back In. As the band grows ever tighter as a playing unit, and prolific lead singer/songwriter David Reid grows more comfortable at the mic, producer Andy Hawkins has chosen to punch up the vocals some while capturing the rocking sonic mix of guitars and harmonies that is the Contrast.

Hailing from the East Midlands (Peterborough, to be more specific), this quartet produces a sound that calls to mind many bands that have gone before (among them the jangly Rickenbackers of the Byrds, the sonic guitar force of Bob Mould in Husker Du or Sugar or as a solo artist, the guitar-swathed vocals of early R.E.M., the poetic moody rock of Television, the swagger of many a raw garage band, the anger of a younger Costello or Jackson or Parker), yet they remain true originals, carving out a sound that is distinctly their own.

Gone are some of the jazz/blues leanings from the latter part of their previous release (Wireless Days), replaced now with some retro psychedelic influences. Overall, Reid has said this is the band’s “most focused and direct stuff,” and I’m inclined to agree. Fans of the Contrast’s sound will be very pleased with this new collection, and it’s a great starting point for those eager to hear what Reid and his music are about.

The band plays with familiarity and infectious energy, and that fun translates well to the finished product. Comprised of Rickenbacker maestro Reid, Spencer Hart on harmonies and guitars, Richard Mackman on bass, and James Crossley on drums, the Contrast are the musically brash angry young men we’d all like to be—honest, punk, pop, and self-deprecating in a witty way.

“Give Me One More Chance” opens aptly enough with ringing guitars that fall into a solid Crossley beat. It’s a tale of a guy asking for a second chance, but structured in such a way that his ardor chills from verse to verse. He’s less eager it seems by this second verse: “I don’t believe you when you tell me you never gave me up / I know you don’t have good allegiance and all your ethics suck / I’ll be somewhere in the background just watching you screw up / I will call you when I can if you give me one more chance”. The middle bridge solo features a fine Byrds-like guitar lead, backed by superb bass work from Mackman.

Many of Reid’s songs are beat driven, and the infectious “George Zipp” is no exception, sporting a strong rhythm of equal drums and guitars. This is a tale of post-altercation friendship (or the questioning of it), as one chides another’s actions and desires: “On the floor and raving / I’m not sure if you’re worth saving / I can’t give you the love you’re craving / Don’t ask me to try”.

Reid’s confidence with the guitar is apparent on these songs—he’s in control of every note and very in sync with his bandmates. One of the strongest offerings here is “Forget It”, another tale of disenchantment and fatal inaction, giving in to giving up on another: “You may as well look the way you do ‘cause the wind will never change / You may as well say whatever you like ‘cause you know you were always strange / Did you dye your hair—did you think I care?”

“The Guilty Party” is another infectious number, rife with harmonies and guitar hooks, quiet moments and lyrical censure. I’m not sure of the precise reference here, but it seems like you can’t turn on a television without confronting some “ecstatic guilty party” parading before you.

Reid and company go psychedelic retro on “Catch the Spark”, complete with fuzz bass. This is a call to action, a warning of impending doom in the face of the current state of things: “The devil’s right outside my door / The mist is thick, it’s a real downpour / I just threw my TV at the wall / We’ve got to hit the ignition / Try to catch a spark / We’ve got to hit the ignition / Before it all goes dark.”

The psychedelic vibe continues through to “Your Starring Role”, a lyrical bombardment chastising one whose fifteen minutes of fame is underway with paper-thin friends, plenty of senseless personal changes, and empty hopes: “You are a controlled explosion / Firing repressed emotion / Inventing new self-doubt that’s closing in.”

On his previous album, Reid offered up a “Drop Dead Gorgeous Love Song”. Here we get his “Functional Punk Pop Song”—and it’s that and then some, embracing the energy and anger along with the tuneful fun. Kudos to Crossley, who manages to really propel this short tune far beyond functional.

And speaking of drop-dead gorgeous, I can’t say enough good things about the chillingly spare ballad “Something Tells Me”. Reid’s halting voice and sweet guitar take center stage, and you’re not likely to find a more emotionally honest reading anywhere. With humor, insight and love, Reid sings of a delicate friendship gone wrong, someone formerly strong who has turned bad and isn’t likely coming back. Reid doesn’t often slow down and open up like this, but when he does it becomes musical poetry, haunting and memorable: “And the best thing is the worst thing / When you’re outside singing dreams in the rain”.

The swift, hard-hitting “Flatpacked” condemns one who doesn’t seem to get it, and features some nice guitar lead flash and more of what has come to be that recognizable Contrast sound.

Those seeking more punk/pop flavors (and some more fine bass work from Mackman, as well as some organ from Andy Hawkins) will enjoy “Smart”. It’s all upbeat fun here, savvy harmonies and self-deprecation from one “with the brains” yet not very smart.

“Everything Seems to Get to Me” is another short, catchy gem, the melody and harmony camouflaging the topic matter about a man at his wit’s end: These tell-tale signs are flashing / It’s dangerous for me to start to think / My head will explode if I don’t listen to the static on TV”.

There is no drop in quality (or energy) from the first track to the last. The CD closes with “Disconnected”, which spotlights the group’s knack for nifty harmonies and leaves you wanting more.

David Reid continues to grow as a talented artist, harnessing cultural and musical influences and creating fun, vibrant songs that bathe in a multi-layered jangle of guitars. As stated above, I’m additionally pleased by two other developments: that he’s letting his vocals come through more and that the band is tighter than ever.

Fade Back In builds on the promise of the previous two albums from the Contrast, and delivers more of that consistent sonic sound that has become uniquely their own. Arguably their best yet, this solid new collection should become a fast favorite of many for the summer months ahead.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/contrast-fadebackin/