Royston Langdon
Photo: Harmony Gerber / Courtesy of Chummy Press

Spacehog’s Royston Langdon Keeps Us Company with the Jaunty ‘Chains’

Royston Langdon possesses the rare gift of applying a glam varnish to small, personable songs while somehow not drowning them in theatrics.

Chains EP
Royston Langdon
BFD/The Orchard
29 October 2021

The 1990s, like many other recent decades, can be looked back upon as a mixed bag. There was a great deal of wealth in our collective pop culture, likely equaled out in the amount of disposable junk. When it came to music, the latter half of the decade found American radio awash with all kinds of generic filler that college kids inexplicably found appealing. The problem wasn’t that this brand of pop-rock leaned so heavily on the pop side of the equation, but rather a complete lack of edge, personalities, and melodies. Bored American listeners cast their attentions eastward across the pond to the battle of Britpop, an exciting movement that was drawing its final breaths as the ’90s wrapped up.

While bands like Blur, Oasis, Suede, and Supergrass were able to provide sparkly objects to tempt jaded American listeners, a quartet of English immigrants living in New York named Spacehog suddenly shot up into the sky and enchanted us all with the catchy hit single “In the Meantime”. The band had melodies, musical chops, contrasting dynamics, and enough glam ornamentals to give grieving Freddie Mercury fans something to shout about. Singer Royston Langdon’s Bowie-esque warble was a lovely, if not perfect, antidote to the legions of singers that were swamping the airwaves in attempts to sound like another Dave Matthews. Resident Alien, Spacehog’s 1995 debut album for Sire, went gold and their new home continent seemed to be theirs for the taking.

But that opportunity seemed to vanish overnight. When Spacehog released their excellent second album, The Chinese Album, it didn’t garner half the attention as their debut. The band switched to the Artemis label to release their third album, 2001’s The Hogyssey, an album that charted nowhere in the world. After that, news about the band became frustratingly sparse. Royston Langdon and his brother Anton fell into a group with former Blind Melon members named Arckid, yet their songs never went further than their MySpace page. Spacehog reunion shows were few and far between as Anton Langdon was busy gaining notoriety in Joaquin Phoenix’s mockumentary I’m Still Here. The band finally released their fourth record in 2013 named As It Is on Earth, an album that received no fanfare and still doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

Since the quiet disbandment of Spacehog, the band’s bassist, singer, and chief songwriter Royston Langdon has been puttering around behind the scenes of the music business. After serving as a mentor to some up-and-coming artists, he set aside some time to record nine songs under the name of Leeds (his hometown). He released the understated singer/songwriter album Everything’s Dandy in 2018. Since Langdon released the album himself, sales didn’t exactly go through the roof. But still, Everything’s Dandy gathered positive reviews and reminded the outside world that he was alive and still in the songwriting business.

Fast forward to 2021, and Langdon has a new EP named Chains, released under his name. Built from four originals and two covers, produced with his longtime friend Bryce Goggin and assisted by Adam Sachs, Matt Hackett, and Parker Kindred, Chains injects a much-needed boost into Langdon’s sound. If Everything’s Dandy reminded people that he could still write songs, Chains lets everyone know that Langdon can still sculpt big sounds and even rock out when he wants to.

That’s not to suggest Royston Langdon has left crooning behind completely. All you need is one listen to the Iggy Pop cover “Nazi Girlfriend” to hear that his singing can still soothe, even with lyrics like “Her French is perfect / So’s her butt.” The cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”, unlike the Iggy Pop cover, takes a few liberties with the arrangement, undressing it down to an acoustic guitar, background keyboards, and a smattering of vocal overdubs. The troubled waltz that is the title song walks a fine line between a full-fledged arrangement and being delivered by an (almost) one-person show. “I will love you to death like a hammer and nail in your head,” he sings to his “dear” on a song where Langdon admits to struggling with class war. “Love is the gift you give yourself,” he sings on the final tune, his voice surrounded by little more than a piano. Less an ode to loving oneself, Langdon appears to be warning the listener against sliding into blind hatred.

Opener “Halfway Home”, which is also Chains’ first single, gives the EP its only upbeat moment. After what sounds like an airplane woosh blows by, a drumbeat that could pass for the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” begins to pound away. Langdon’s freewheeling vocal harmonies then lead the way, providing the sense of humor that was always lurking around the corner of Spacehog’s most unique moments. The second single, “Creepy Crawly”, plays out more like a twisted lounge act where Langdon backs up his voice with a deep-voiced male choir. “It will rain, it will pour / La-da-dee, la-dee-da / The old man will snore right out of bed / And I’ll go to hell, I might as well / Be hung for a sheep as a lamb” goes the ominous chorus, giving the song a feel that is all too appropriate for its title.

Royston Langdon possesses the rare gift of applying a glam varnish to small, personable songs while somehow not drowning them in theatrics. The more you listen to Chains, the more you realize that his sense of restraint is just as strong as his voice. And just as Spacehog’s early hit was a breath of fresh air for us all, the kitsch factor of Chains provides a welcome distraction from our collective, troublesome reality. Sure, the lyrics are serious, but only if you hold them under a microscope. On a macroscopic level, Chains is fun.

RATING 7 / 10