Texas strike some interesting new shapes, but don't stray too far from their comfort zone and therein lies the problem.
All good bands have their moment. For Scottish band Texas, it was the turn of the millennium. Their combination of effortless, high-class -- if not always demanding -- pop and Motown-influenced stomp helped fill the post-Britpop vacuum, and sold bucketloads (35 million, count ‘em) of records before seeming to run out of gas, as British buying tastes turned back to more rockist wares as peddled by likes of the Strokes and the Libertines and the sub-Radiohead stylings of Coldplay and Travis.
Since that heyday, the band has been on an extended break, with their lead singer and charismatic face Sharlene Spiteri embarking on a limited solo career. But, following guitarist Ally McErlaine’s near-death from a brain aneurysm, they reunited in 2013 and seemed to have rediscovered their mojo, if not quite hitting the heights and popularity of their golden period.
For all the success of their two major sellers, White on Blonde and The Hush, in many ways Texas never topped the energy and verve of their 1989 debut single, “I Don’t Want a Lover”. And that encapsulates the dilemma on new album Jump on Board for a band of their vintage: stick or twist? Cruise control, or rediscover the passion that ignited your career in the first place?
Inevitably, Texas manage neither, while simultaneously accomplishing both. Take the first track, “Work It Out”, which gives rise to the worst fears that here is a band content to go down the business as usual route. It’s an amiable, comforting mid-stroll of chugging guitar and familiar rise and fall strings; Spiteri informing us that life’s too short for rancor, but without the passion that makes you feel she’s really that bothered. “For Everything” is even more disappointing, following the formulae that Texas perfected on The Hush sans the hooks.
To be fair, the band do raise their game on several occasions. For every anti-climax, there is a surprise. “Can’t Control”, in this rather uneven collection of songs, is something of a revelation for Texas and makes you wonder if -- as Twin Peaks returns to our screens after 25 years -- Spiteri is auditioning for the role of Julee Cruse in The Roadhouse. “Can’t Control” is definitely not from 1999 to 2000 as its arresting use of echo and space summoning up both Lana del Rey and the sub-'80s gloss of forgotten hit by the Passions, “I’m in Love With a German Film Star”.
Overall, Spiteri emerges with more credit from Jump on Board than her band. On “Can’t Control” and “Sending a Message” (an equally shiny production that conjures with the under-rated Southern gothic eerie of American sisters the Pierces), she shows herself willing to experiment, dropping an octave on her voice to generate a breathy quality. But Spiteri could expect more from her colleagues, who lapse too often into their default comfort zone of the mid-pace strum -- like the Black Keys deprived of the grit.
Texas always had a knack for a strong tune, but that facility largely goes AWOL on Jump on Board. “Great Romances” steals from the brash beat of girl tune of the '60s "My Boyfriend’s Back" but, like a revving car that can’t find top gear, it never quite launches into overdrive. The final track, “Round the World”, shimmers and glows, but searches for the grand climax that fails to arrive.
In 2015, another Scottish band, albeit from an earlier era, Simple Minds, made a worthy comeback with Big Music. This worked, primarily because it carried an urgency that their new music-making meant something to them. No doubt, Texas would say the same about Jump on Board, which has its moments and is a pleasurable listen. But it neither matches the killer pop soul of say “Black Eyed Boys”; nor is it a sufficiently radical departure to make it the stand-out album they had in mind.