[30 April 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Lay Down the Law (released in 2007 as Heart Turned to D.E.A.D. in the UK) is a non-stop glam-pop juggernaut, with nary a musical misstep. It’s all big beats and baited hooks destined to reel in fans by the millions. These four London lads (Switches is Matt Bishop on lead vocals and guitar, Thom Kirkpatrick on bass and backing vocals, Ollie Thomas on guitar and backing vocals, and Steve Godfrey on drums) seem to be in possession of preternatural pop instincts.
“Drama Queen” rips open the record with a more than healthy dose of attitude and an abundance of talent to back it up. The melody is reminiscent of certain ELO-era Jeff Lynne pop gems, while the lyrics (“It remains to be seen if you’ve got what it takes to be queen / Just get your ass through my door / And don’t ask for a chance to give more / Drama queen are you clean? / Drama queen where you been?”) are pure rock and roll bravado.
“Snakes & Ladders” keeps the pop hooks plentiful and the guitars tight as if climbing toward critical mass. And the crest, the first of many on the album, occurs on the title track. “Lay Down the Law” is one of those iconic songs of the summer, or the year, and indeed recalls Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” to the point of checking the liner notes for Alex Kapranos’s credits, and that’s not a bad thing. After all, when things work this well, originality doesn’t matter half as much as sheer irresistibility.
For all the taut, triggered riffs and smart, sharpened wit, what Switches really excel at is the three part harmonies, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the sugar-coated slice of new wave called “Coming Down”. “The Need to Be Needed” takes things down for a bit of a love ballad, but even it’s a mover, with Bishop’s falsetto backed by a building momentum that swells into a bridge redolent of Queen. “Message from Yuz” brings back the laddish swagger and monster riffs. “You’re cool / I’m hot / You’re girl /I’m not” Bishop sneers, “Rip out your heart /And give it to me” he commands, completely skipping the niceties of modern courtship (is there even such a thing anymore?) and nevertheless succeeding at pulling every girl within earshot.
“Every Second Counts” is more close harmonies and confectionary refrain, as Bishop, Kirkpatrick, and Thomas amp up the glam rock with shouts of “Here I go (Here I go) / Here I go (Here I go) / Yeah!” “Stepkids in Love”, a cautionary tale with a menacing, descending melody, stomping beat and irresistible “Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh” chorus, gives a whole new spin to the idea of sibling rivalry. “Lovin’ It” is more unrelentingly sexy, guitar-driven dance rock, and one might start to suspect Switches of planting subliminal messages.
Switches claim to be as inspired by David Bowie’s music as by his album covers (speaking of cover art, Lay Down the Law‘s CD insert is a brilliant bit of packaging in the style of a graphic novel.), and it’s clear that Bowie’s glittery fingerprints left an impression all over this bands’ collective musical blueprint. “Killer Karma” steals straight from Bowie’s “Soul Love”, which can’t be very good for the band’s karma, but is great for the fans of glam because Switches can pull it off so perfectly. Again, it’s an infectious melody with just enough sweet, sing-along harmonies to stick in ears (and hearts and minds) for years.
“Testify” ends Lay Down the Law with the same cocksure confidence and captivating competence that began it. “I don’t care what ya say / Cus I won’t testify my love / I don’t care what ya do / Cus I won’t testify my love / Yeah, I don’t want to testify, testify /So I’m not gonna testify, testify”, the chorus teases. Okay, so Switches might not be willing to testify, but it’s a sure bet that fans will.