The Bluetones Label: Cooking Vinyl
You know how it works when a group releases a new album after having been away for a few years: critics revel in the opportunity to cite LL Cool J’s demand that we shouldn’t call it a comeback, the band themselves grumpily complain that they haven’t actually been anywhere, and, in the end, it all comes down to whether or not the album gets enough exposure to become a hit -- and if it isn’t, then it’s back to the trenches for another few years, ‘til the next “comeback.”
It was rather a big deal amongst Britpop fans when the Bluetones released their self-titled album in October of last year, and, yes, the word “comeback” was thrown around willy-nilly. It wasn’t so much that they’d been away all that long – in fact, it had only been three years since their previous release, Luxembourg – but, rather, the combination of shifting to a high-profile indie label and a return to their classic jangly sound after a misguided attempt to get a bit edgy with their last record. Critics in the UK generally liked what they heard, but The Bluetones didn’t set the charts on fire. Still, there was always a chance at success in the States, especially since it was the band’s first album to see US release since their 1996 debut, Learning to Fly -- but, y’know, it can’t possibly bode well for their comeback attempt on these shores that the album, which was released here on October 12, 2006 (according to Amazon, at least), only just arrived at Bullz-Eye’s offices within the last month. Okay, it’s fair to suggest that The Bluetones never had a chance in Hell at scoring any success in the States, anyway. Still, this is a striking return to form for the band, and they deserve a better fate than just languishing in some magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” file.
Having gotten that attempt at tweaking their sound out of their system, the Bluetones have gone back to basics, to the point where they’ve even brought back the producer of their debut: Hugh Jones, whose work with Del Amitri, Dodgy, and the Connells has long since proven that he knows the proper way to record a jangly guitar. The album opens with the bouncy “Surrendered” and follows with the banging chorus of “Baby, Back Up,” making for a nice opening salvo, but it’s “My Neighbor’s House” that’s the harmony-laden, radio-friendly pop nugget that’ll really have the Britpop fans salivating. A few of the tracks seem to take sonic inspiration from unlikely places; “Head on a Spike” has a recurring keyboard riff that’s reminiscent of Berlin’s “The Metro,” while “Thank You, Not Today” bears such a striking musical similarity to the Beautiful South’s “Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)” that one wonders if Paul Heaton’s heard it yet. “The King of Outer Space” has a positively anthemic chorus, but, oddly, after two and a half extremely solid minutes, the song takes almost a minute to meander to a close.
The Bluetones closes in much the same way it begins – with a bouncy pop nugget (“Wasn’t I Right About You,” which features a nice Bacharachian trumpet break) – and once it’s over, you probably won’t be any more surprised than we were that the album wasn’t a huge hit. After all, even in their native land, the Bluetones’ sound isn’t what’s ruling the charts these days. Still, it’s a shame that it didn’t get anything even remotely resembling a fair shake in the States; plenty of discerning Americans still enjoy a nice pop song, and there are several here that are more than worth their time.