Belfast’s Language of Flowers certainly had some problems putting this album together, but as the old adage goes: no pain, no gain. Drummer Robert Cardwell was forced to leave during the making of the record due to ill health. Yet when one group is stuck in a brand of music that evokes images of a youthful Molly Ringwald and a ready to take on the world version of the Smiths, success should come to you regardless. Led by singer Tara Simpson, Language of Flowers perfect and hone this jangle-centric niche with lovely results, resembling groups like Trembling Blue Stars mixed with the Cranberries.
The first few notes of “Where You Belong” seem to be taken from either Johnny Marr or Robert Smith, slowly gliding into the track by building one instrument on top of the other to a simple but catchy, intricate riff. Opening itself up to include Cardwell’s backbeat, the track hits a sort of up-tempo cruise control while Simpson steers the sonic ship. Sounding eerily like Dolores O’Riordan with her lithe but sparkling voice, Simpson works well off of Marc McCourt’s and Ashton Cameron’s weaving guitars. The greatest complement you can give the tune is that four minutes seems like two here, making you want to replay it just before it’s over. “If It’s Not You” is a catchy little track that could have come from the soundtrack to Empire Records. Faster, sing-along-ish and rougher around the edges, the band is intent on recreating the mid-’80s or early ’90s alt-rock/pop era with the same panache.
The title track adds some color with Glenn Chambers’s trumpet and a delayed harmony that current groups like the Futureheads are taking to the next level. Think of a really, really ecstatic Belle and Sebastian and you might get the gist of this effort. “Leaving” changes the pace, bassist Colm McCrory shining as Simpson sings about her better half parting at the train station. “Who You’re With” is classic Morrissey and company with a bouncy beat and a somewhat somber breakup story about trying to put on a brave face. Musically, it intensifies although not to the extent of overdoing it. If there is one disappointment though, it has to be how ordinary “She’s Gone Away” sounds in comparison, taking an extremely similar riff from earlier songs but lacking any sort of gumption or gusto to put it across. It’s a letdown to say the least.
Language of Flowers are influenced by older bands, but a surprise comes in the opening to “Summer’s Been and Gone”, a number that opens like the classic old-school rock tune “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” by the Shirelles. Starting slow and building itself up, the group hit that melancholy so often found in early Cranberries material or latter day Sixpence None the Richer. The jagged, edgy bridge takes the song into a totally different yet contemporary vibe. Three different sections in a song is usually a death knell, but here the group delivers it nicely.
The problem with this record is that too often the perfected pop song is repeated with little variation; “Botanic Gardens” is one example, despite its little infectious moments that creep up on you. “Here comes that boy I like that never looks at me / He’s with that girl with the stupid looks and the stupid hair”, Simpson sings in a manner that Morrissey would stamp his seal of maudlin approval on. “I Don’t Care At All” is the black sheep of the lot, a slower and acoustically driven lullaby/ballad that abruptly evolves into a mid-tempo pop tune. Again, sounds like two generally good ideas fused together, but with mixed results. The saving grace is the give and take vocals between Simpson and McCrory, the latter resembling the lead singer from Modern English.
“Tara Mascara” is an average yet muddled bit of work that sounds like it was recorded in a room adjacent to the studio. The closing delayed vocals create some semblance of psychedelic sounds, but it’s not that strong. Aside from a few miscues near the end, and the somewhat repetitive nature to some tracks, Language of Flowers are definitely onto something. It’s a style that few can mine as well.