The Popguns are an archetypal '80s/'90s Brit indie band who, although they can knock out a passable tune, lack the inspiration or adventure to stray any distance from their fixed musical roots.
The Popguns belong to a particular musical genre which -- and many would say, thank God for that -- will never die. It’s a style which has its genesis in the '60s Rickenbacker greatness of the Beatles and the Byrds; was sieved though '70s pop gems served up by the likes of Big Star and the Raspberries; then morphed through a very '80s British pop haze of the shoegazer bands. Mid-'90s Britpop also carried the banner to some extent.
It’s maybe therefore no surprise that the Popguns should be related to a British indie sub-shoegazer, the Wedding Present (they inherited the drummer). David Gedge could deliver three-minute melodic cameos to order. The Popguns were founded as far back as 1986, and these musical roots show. Since then, the band has episodically released albums and singles, but Pop Fiction is their first fully-fledged outing since 1996’s A Plus De Cent. This release has coincided with the band starting a series of live gigs up and down the UK.
So what do you get from the 2014/15 version? From the first note up, you sense that little is going to alter from the Popguns’ basic template. Opener "City Lights" is a pleasant guitar chugger, distinguished most of all by Wendy Pickles' (nee Morgan) light airy vocals. It’s a track that could have come out of primetime Britpop from 1995, and is no less likeable for that.
And so the tracks continue in the same vein: "If You Ever Change Your Mind" sets the jingle-jangle guitar button and doesn’t really relent; "Lovejunky" ditto, but lacking in much feeling. "Still Waiting for the Winter"’s initial muted tones herald more promise, but soon segue into the familiar buzz jangle. By the time you get to "Alfa Romeo" (great title), you are less willing to forgive the often banal lyrics that the Popguns can generate (it's apparently about the legendary trumpeter Chet Baker but here we basically hear an aimless list of glamorous capital cities to match the aforementioned glossy automobile of Baker).
The next two songs, "Out Of Sight" and "Not Your Night Tonight", therefore come as something of a belief, demonstrating that the Popguns do know the meaning of light and shade. "Out of Sight" employs a slower rhythm and sound effects. "Not Your Night Tonight" (another great title) is the most interesting of the lot - a tempo similar to a classic Oasis B-side, "Half The World Away", played in waltz time interspersed with some welcome gentle piano notes. Wendy Morgan invests the song (and the message - “I can’t give you what you want”) with more emotion than on any other performance. The overall atmosphere is imbued with genuine pathos, not the more customary bathos.
The final three tracks -- "Leaning on the Backline", "Something Going On" and "I’ll See You Later" -- revert to type. At least the latter carries some guitar crunch, but the songs generally meander and it is as if the band have run out of their stock of tunes.
Last month’s reissues of Jellyfish’s Bellybutton and Spilt Milk show how jangly power pop can be twisted and manipulated into a music both listenable and idiosyncratic. The Popguns, I suspect, are neither capable nor really that interested in getting out of their comfort zone. Some of these songs would be easy enough to hear on the radio, but overall file this under mundane.