To start off, here’s some good news: despite their name, the Lovers are not the newest retro West Coast/New York/new-wave hot shots with attitude and glamorously unkempt hair. In other words, they have nothing to do with the Strokes, the Stills, the Thrills, the Killers, the Others, or the others. If you’re younger than 25, the name Tom Hingley probably won’t mean anything to you. If you’re older than 25, it probably still won’t. But if you were a fan of the short-lived UK “Madchester” indie dance scene of the early 1990s, you just might recall that Tom Hingley was the singer for Inspiral Carpets.
Inspiral Carpets were about the fourth best band on that scene, whereas the Lovers are most definitely the best band ever to make a direct statement of intent against Abba. Not too impressed? How about this: the Lovers also feature Steve Hanley (bass) and Paul Hanley (drums), two ex-members of UK post-punk perennials the Fall (whose Mark E. Smith once collaborated with Inspiral Carpets — small world!). And together, they rage against all things Pop Culture. Having been not-quite pop stars for years, it’s their right.
At first, listening to Abba Are… is as much fun as reading the lyric sheet. After a garage rock Hendrix redux, “Online Pharmacy” comes headfirst with its whiplash drumming, slicing guitars, and Steve Hanley’s angular bassline. Oh, and they’ve held the whirling, nightmare-at-the-amusement-park Farfisa organ over from the Inspirals. Great! “Triazapan, Vicodin, Xenecal, Chuck Berry”, roars Hingley, sounding like the bastard child of Paul Weller and Roger Daltrey. Even Better!
Of course, it doesn’t stay that good. The Lovers are clearly liberated by the music they make, and they’re liberating in small doses. But “songcraft” is a distant fourth place after “attitude”, “fun”, and “swirling Farfisa organ” on their mission statement. “Yeah” suckerpunches junk TV (“Reality television’s gonna fuck my wife”), while “Hole” does more than just swipe at a smacked-up Courtney Love type (“Her face looked like a battle from the First World War”). Unfortunately, there’s no tunes to sing along with. The brittle organ alone can’t hold things together. Steve Hanley gets to the root of every song, but them bones could use a little more meat.
Abba Are… rights itself toward the end, though, throwing out some hooks just as you’re about to swim away. “I Feel Old”, led by Paul Hanley’s propulsive shuffle rhythm, gets the Manchester/disco groove going, taking on Abba at their own game and grinding them into a pile of grimy Swedish asphalt. The closer, “The Perfect Body”, is a ballad that has the feet knocked out from under it by the oh-so-’80s electronic drums. Is this a hint of the retro coolness that the band has so far avoided, even raged against? Not at all! These are the synth drums that thud instead of crackle; you know, the ones that came loaded on your first Casio keyboard: “Doooshh. Hingley sounds genuine, but those drums… they’ll make you laugh. And that’s the point: the Lovers draw no line between sincerity and irony. It’s all real.
The Hendrix fixation is a bit strange, with a second Jimi-inspired instrumental, “The Third Cumming” sounding like a soundcheck, which it is. Is Jimi Hendrix really the antidote to Abba?!? That question is probably too deep for a band like the Lovers, who sound like they’re having fun. They probably rule in concert, too. As for Abba Are the Enemy, take it or leave it. Just don’t ignore it.