I was never much a fan of the English band Athlete — the bunch of well-to-do windswept indie boys from Deptford, London. After ten years and the arrival of a sincere best-of collection, little has changed.
The noughties were a decade that saw the British musical landscape clogged up with a post-modern angst and a more aesthetically conscious approach to ‘indie’ music than the decade preceding it. There was Scottish post-punk from art-school kids in Franz Ferdinand; the droll re-appropriation of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley in the form of Coldplay; the over-aestheticised camp of the drug-addled from the Darkness; the plain thrashing of Sheffield suburbanites the Arctic Monkeys; short-lived and catchy one-hit wonders such as Hard-Fi; as well as horrific failure in the form of the hackneyed Rooster.
In this time, rarely did I feel entrenched in the country’s musical culture. It was frustrating. I was finally coming of age and heading out to clubs, only to realise that the music playing in my bedroom was considerably superior to the drivel that was congesting the stereo systems of the mainstream clubs on the British isle. Of course, there was a rare moment that came with the success of the Libertines. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat’s now defunct venture was a masterpiece of the bruised ego. The duo’s volatile stage personas fed into the subtly poetic lyricism of their debut, Up the Bracket, and their eponymous follow-up, which bore one of the most un-ironic album covers of the decade, and which was also fittingly a self-referential pop/rock treasure. And although the band produced few songs together, they were unrelenting in their ability to stick with you long after the discs had stopped spinning.
The Ivor Novello award-winning band Athlete lack any such ability to affect the listener. Although, none of the aforementioned bands listed in my introduction have been to my taste, I am at the very least confident that I can remember the melody to a Coldplay song if the urgency ever arises, in, say, the form of a karaoke competition. Athlete is devoid of such melodic affability. Go on. I dare you to list five of the group’s biggest hits? Stumped?
To declare that that the 32 tracks on this overly complete effort are dry and melancholy is tantamount to saying that Britain is a cold and rainy country. It’s hard not to picture these songs in a context other than that of a lo-fi teenage soap opera, or in a short montage featuring middle-class teenagers — too straight-laced to smoke a cigarette or take a step beyond the indie best-sellers’ section of their local HMV or iTunes stores.
Devout fans and the odd critic alike will already be aware that the band have had to endure their fair bit of snobbery, which has seen them oft-maligned despite their relative commercial success in the UK. I’m not hell-bent on seeming like the unrelenting grump who is often found in the more conservative pages of the broadsheets, and so I must concede that listening to this on loop did not particularly offend me. There are decent remixes of “You Got the Style” and “Hurricaned” on this compilation that will please a tranche of their existing followers.
Still, it is my great hope that this kind of placid acceptance won’t be a thing of the future. I would rather see a pretentious band that took risks than a group like this, who are so intent to please that their unassuming eagerness all but forces them into obscurity.