Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Enemy - Streets In The Sky


Oh what I'd do to travel back in time just a shade under ten years. What I'd sacrifice to experience all the tentatively mounted confidence and self-served delusion. To see what the sprawl of amassed music fans believed would be on par with the great game-changers and age-defining movements that have collectively made music one of the finer nucleus' of creativity. Heck, the word 'creativity' in itself is quite charming too - the idea of developing, manifesting and spawning something from what is considered a state of nothingness into this fresh newborn of genuine existence that is granted both in merit and admiration. While post-punk and the accompanying revival of its predecessor's musical ideology is one of the lesser talked about genres simply on the basis of stand-out uniqueness, it is quite possibly the (not just one of) major tag of 21st century music associated with most british bands who started off in the fine period of 2002 onwards. I've lost count of how many three/four/five piece collectives have come and gone through the mill of production - merited by radio play and associative promotion afterwards. Likewise, I cannot recall how many bands starting with the word 'The...' have set themselves paradoxically as the next best thing only to find themselves stuck to a sound that, in reality, harbors neither interest nor means of requiring such interest.

The Enemy are one of these such bands. The coventry trio, back in 2006, came at a time when the whole 'indie rock' revolution was starting to look more like a failed coup de'tat at what is considered the retail sector of music. But the band go beyond the seen-it-before set-up we're all accustomed to; oh, they've done more than that. No, they've actually took the genre - in whatever set of circumstances this sound has found itself a representative of - and exploited it beyond what was thought possible, relegating it to this lifeless, derogatory rehashing of old ideas and just-as-old means of expressing them. While the band's debut demonstrated with some kindled satisfaction that they had found a place in today's teen musical culture of 'boys being boys' (even if the content fell quite a few lengths short of actually being worthwhile and relevant), the follow-up - the quite snigger-inducing - 'Music For The People' felt more like some mate's-garage jam through past greats' discography. Honestly, try and listen to 'Don't Break The Red Tape' without finding yourself muttering the lyrics to 'London Calling'. While this is thankfully rid of (I think) in the band's third outing 'Streets In The Sky', the same cringe-worthy off-putting bitter-taste is not just still present, but worse, intensified.

To say this is a difficult record would not only undermine how bad it really is, but it also runs the risk of getting it mixed in with some of the more respectable 'difficult' albums out there - the ones that have needed multiple listens for it to eventually click. This album is, however and quite thankfully, not one of those albums (trust me, I've listened through this record multiple time, just to double-later-triple-check that was the case). The opening track 'Gimme The Sign' begins with a less-than-admirable unfulfilling up-down-up-down shifting of chords - vocalist Tom Clarke opening with the lyrics 'He's walking like a penguin/All zipped up tight/He thinks he's a hard-man/But he's got nothing to back it up.' It's a rarity that both the lyrics and the vocals are to cringe over; Clark's voice lacks neither the passion nor the direction that would suggest this is anything other than blurted outrage. Follower 'Bigger Cages (Longer Chains)' just adds to the idea that Clarke is already sick of the whole fiasco even before it's begun. Likewise, the music itself isn't anything I'd want to hear any longer than ten second let alone near three minutes. There's barely any development in this sound and in the end, all comes out like some muddy, filthy mash of angst and half-formed ideas.

Third track 'Saturday' comes across as the band's attempt at an arena-shaker with the repeated bellows of the title day. But even when Clarke tries at a variation in harmonizing with the music, it just comes across rather lazily and, as stated, more in line with angry chanting rather than performing alongside a musical ensemble. The only real identifying mark is the title itself and how it's actually incorporated into the song structure. The miniscule break-down allows the clogging drum beats to take centre focus, but beyond that there is little change and it all just seems turned down rather than turned to emote something different for a change. The only real promise which actually leads right through the range of instrumentation and vocals alike is when 'Come Into My World' finally gets it's turned. There actually is a decent portion of consideration here, the vocal and instrumental accompaniment actually sounds rather nice, even if it just a brief few seconds in a chorus that doesn't exactly stray from what is already a set structure of repeating the title names of these songs. Nevertheless, even if I am clutching at straws here, at least there is a sense of wanting to convey some sense of emotion and meaning in these sounds, and when they want to do it, it works quite well.

But even when vocals don't play a part at all, '2 Kids' showcases some promise with its irish-like pop flutters and more somber string-playing direction - acoustics the focus here on a sound that actually is genuinely believable at being thought about. Heck, I find myself interested in Clarke's supposed concept too; story-telling here two young individuals hoping for the best, and ending up with the worst. At last, I can express details of a song that actually pulls off a nice blend of passionate vocals alongside a charming background of guitars and hard-hitting drums. How I'd like to proclaim this is a strong-back-half record, but this is where all positivity and mention of highlights ends. 'It's A Race' falls back on the band's former band-togetherness, storming out from the speakers into this mess of unneeded energy and unwanted noise. Again, the lyrics are forgettable and merely collapse under the weight of a sound that itself feels barely worked on; barely refined and retouched and just left to later rot. At least on past records, the band have ended their track-lists with a sound that, to some degree, differs from the established idea of verse structures and unconcerned outbursts, that it actually makes the whole package feel like it has shape rather than coming off as something heard amidst the panic of chaos of some distant turmoil. But this is exactly the case on the album closer 'Make A Man' which could have easily been in the middle of the record, as much as it could be the first, second, third or anywhere else on the album. Even if Clarke diversifies his deliverance of vocals into this one...two...three... pattern during the intervals between verses, it all feels so flat and middle-of-the-road, it becomes as much a pain as it does a chore just to get to the finale - a finale which actually, much like the record, is unrewarding and quite dismal even by the band's standards.

I know some people may look at this and think of it as an exaggeration, or even go as far as to claim this review as bias against the whole post-punk philosophy. Well, in all honesty I actually don't mind the genre - I have plenty of similar bands in my library and enjoy a good guitar-and-drums three-minute tune now and again just as much as the next guy - and can admire certain degrees of this supposed energy and want to express a song in such a manner. But here, in this specific case of 'expression', its not just lacking in admiration, it's downright embarrassing. At least I could listen back to the tracks 'Aggro' and 'No Time For Tears' and think to myself: 'oh, they've got something here.' But 'Streets In The Sky' beyond the slight glimmer of possibly maybe, is inevitably doomed beyond recognition. It's not just the fact there is barely any variety in content and context in projection, but it's the fact that there are clear signs here that the band don't even want to try, which is even more disheartening. I don't know what's worse: the fact that they considered this 'album' complete and worthy of release, or the fact people (consumers and critics alike) will perceive this as a reasonable investment let alone forty minutes of their and anybody else's time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back on it - if they'd have known the result - I don't even think the band would have changed a thing. Sad, really.
~Jordan

1.9

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