I have never toured Europe. In fact, I have never been to Europe, and I am a terrible musician, so it seems unlikely that I am right about this, but I will say it anyway: Brakesbrakesbrakes’ new record, Touchdown, sounds like a bunch of musicians touring Europe. It is pure energy, musicianship, and lyrical hilarity and quite simply is the best record yet to be released in 2009.
Brakesbrakesbrakes, known back home in the UK as simply Brakes, are on their third record. You’d be hard pressed to say that they didn’t get it right on the first two, but Touchdown unites all that is great about countrymen Arctic Monkeys: the lyrical versatility of its Eamon Hamilton’s former band, British Sea Power, and the pure power of Gentleman Jesse’s American release last year. It is a tumbleweed whose trip down the hill snagged elements of Joy Division, Book of Love, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Oasis.
The record rips open with “Two Shocks”, an electronic beat that claims to be tired of the Third World War and aches for the fourth. Just as quickly, Touchdown becomes a love story with “Don’t Take me to Space, Man”. There’s an opening bass riff reminiscent of “Old Man Kinsey”, but that is where, in this instance, the comparisons end. Michael Stipe has never written so upbeat about love and its trappings. Hamilton says ”I’ve had a taste of true love / I don’t care if the world is corrupted”. Like the rest of the record, it’s built for live shows, with hooks and bridges throughout.
Lyrically, Hamilton sometimes invokes peers like Badly Drawn Boy or even Billy Bragg. Not as overtly political, he takes on relations in “Worry About It Later” and croons about leaving home in “Leaving England”. Both of these tracks lend to the fullness of the record, but neither carries forward the mission to melt faces in the way that much of the other songs do. Left as a final track, “Leaving England” is a war call. As Hamilton moves to the United States, it is a loving song of leaving home, but also a warning that he is bringing that rock to our borders.
“Crush on You” is a bit derivative. Vocally, it feels like a Bush song. Then there is the descending and repeating bass line that sounds a lot like the Breeders hit “Cannonball”. This may be the third time this year that someone wrote a great song using that bass line. It may not be totally original, but it is far more punk than either of its predecessors. “Do You Feel the Same” is the album’s true high point. This super group really is at their best when they invoke the ghosts of Johnny Marr and Jesus and Mary Chain in the same song.
Winter of 2008 saw the release of some records that signaled a return to the real rock album. The Hold Steady, Gentleman Jesse, and Roger Bryan and the Orphans indicated that we were willing to hold up our end of the bargain in the States. Brakes’ latest release, Touchdown, indicates that our friends across the pond are now at our borders and are not shying away from the challenge.