Is it true that all Britpop bands sound like either Radiohead or Oasis? Are all UK artists doomed to repeat history — reproducing and re-releasing recycled versions of OK Computer and What’s the Story Morning Glory? Well, if the Cooper Temple Clause‘s second full-length album, Kick Up the Fire, and Let the Flames Break Loose, is the evidence submitted, then, yes. These Reading natives channel both landmark Brit bands — but also invoke a host of other worthy influences. While the Cooper Temple Clause may have serious ties to the mother country, the band succeeds in moving within and beyond its preordained genre of alt rock.
The six members of the band are all self-proclaimed outcasts, getting together in high school and forming a band basically because there was nothing else to do in Hertfordshire. The band released two EPs in 2000 and, after landing a deal with RCA, released their full-length debut, See This Through and Leave in 2001. The band members freely admit that they don’t play their instruments particularly well, and according to their bio are “bad musicians who just get a sound out”. Apparently, a fresher sound results from this lack of musical chops. That’s debatable. It’s possible for a bunch of guys to produce their own, unique sound simply because they don’t know how to play other peoples’ music. Case in point: U2. When those kids were 18, they couldn’t play anyone else’s music so they created some crazy and totally original punk/soul hybrid. On the other side of the spectrum, your band may come up short in the mechanical skills department, and to make up for it, can only sound like other influential bands.
This is at least partly the case on Kick Up the Fire, and Let the Flames Break Loose. “The Same Mistakes” is an interesting choice for an album opener. It’s a slow burner that builds and spirals upward, but doesn’t ever really pay off. Front man Ben Gautrey’s voice is restrained and cool. He doesn’t risk much with this first track. The real artistry comes from guitarists Dan Fisher and Tom Bellamy. The sounds they create are soft and moody, reminiscent of the Edge’s more tranquil work.
“Promise Promise”, the first single and the heaviest song on the album, allows Gautrey to really showcase his rough, gravel-filled voice. This mosh-friendly metal tune is the perfect first single — under three-and-a-half minutes, shamelessly aggressive, and Gautrey provides an almost perfect imitation of Liam Gallagher’s howl.
“New Toys” switches gears as the band delves into electronic rhythms, synthesizers courtesy of Bellamy and programmer, Kieran Mahon, and an overall IDM sensibility. Drummer Jon Harper creates intricate drum ‘n’ bass-tinged beats that give the otherwise poppy song a darker and more complicated feel.
Pretty much every band member sings on the next track, “Talking to a Brick Wall”, and quite, frankly, it’s a disconcerting sound. The voices combine with some haunted circus-style synthesizers to create a creepy atmosphere that becomes bearable only when the chorus kicks in and the power of six people playing at once takes over.
“Blind Pilots”, a new wave-infused ’80s throwback and one of the strongest and slickest tracks on Kick Up the Fire, channels both the Smiths and the Cure with the instrumentally spare verses. However, by the chorus, Liam Gallagher is back.
This pattern continues throughout the album. The band members produce huge sounds reminiscent of Primal Scream, Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails, but when Gautrey opens his mouth — there’s Liam! For some, this could be problematic. Imitation’s worthless when the real thing already exists. For others, the combination of sounds from all these great bands is valuable in and of itself.
Even though these guys aren’t stellar musicians, they’re far from untalented. Yes, they’ve got the shag haircuts, the loose-fitting jeans, and the retro hoodies, but they also work well together. The Cooper Temple Clause is a good band — cohesive and confident. Worth more than one listen.