I remember when I first queued up the Crookes’ 2011 debut ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ with baited breath after the brilliance of ‘Backstreet Lovers’ on their ‘Dreaming of Another Day’ EP. They haven’t changed their sound so much to the point of unrecognisable from their previous releases; what they have done is started playing and writing smarter, both instrumentally and lyrically, and made by my job as a blog editor infinitely better. I’ll be honest, I don’t commend bands lyrically unless they go above and beyond the call of duty, but I think given the band’s campaign to bring “NEW POP” to every corner of the globe and to do it in such an accessible way that allows them to still convey their message through words that actually mean something (what a concept!) deserves a special commendation.
With complaints far and wide that guitar rock is dead, ‘Hold Fast’ flies in the face of these ill-begotten rumours and grins widely. But what’s behind that Cheshire cat smile? I alluded to this paradox in my single review of ‘Maybe in the Dark’, the second single released from the album, and maybe this says something about the parentage of ‘Hold Fast’. While I liked ‘Chasing After Ghosts’, there was a wintry chill in the air when you listened to the tracks that made you ache inside, full of emotion, when you listened to it; I remember crying to the words “you and me / were fated to be / so damn blue” from ‘Chorus of Fools’. Coupled with a late March release, the album was a sleeper if there ever was one. The underlying sadness of many of the songs reminded me of the grittiness of the North and how the struggles of life there makes one hard. A lot of gloom, despair, unfair situations and death pervaded the previous album. As if to counter those feelings, ‘Hold Fast’ is filled with sunlight and can be viewed as the Crookes’ summertime album, an album that as I mentioned is more accessible than their last. Hopefully this will finally break them into the big time.
Instead of the doom and gloom of ‘Chasing…’, this album is more about relationships and sex. I must have been giving the theme of this review too much thought, because after a while, even the title of song ‘Afterglow’ started to take on sexual overtones. But, to my relief and frankly, to lyricist Daniel Hopewell’s credit, it’s tastefully done and might mean something else entirely: while using the word “afterglow” to mean a whole lot of different things, I’ve teased out that the song plays on the fact that we all have memories we keep of the people who have left for one reason or another, and we should cherish those memories. “Lose yourself in lights and we’ll always have tonight” and I’m taken back to every single gig I’ve covered as a blogger, and I would imagine many TGTF readers will similarly relate to both the song and the driving melody, echoing the excitement of witnessing a live concert. This, along with ‘Maybe in the Dark’ and the title track, are fast paced corkers sure to get dancing feet all festival season long, as well as providing drummer Russell Bates a workout.
But let’s go back to wistfulness in the lyrics of ‘Afterglow’: “when did my friends slip right through my fingers / and you, you were all I ever knew”. This echoed later in ‘Sofie’, when singer George Waite begs, “I’m thinking of you, Sofie, it’s you…promise me you’ll try and stay happy / and I’ll promise I’ll do the same / promise me you’ll try”. Yearning and innocence. You were expecting something else, weren’t you? Forget salaciousness. It’s just not here. Starry-eyed lovers framed in idealised relationships and those have lost them (‘Where Did Our Love Go?’), yes; I have trouble detecting even borderline offensiveness with the way the Crookes are talking about relationships. With the popularity of the groanworthy Fifty Shades of Grey ‘book’, manufactured bands singing about sex and rappers who beat up their girlfriends and still storm the charts, this is a refreshing change. I’d also like to note that in this day and age of overblown production, the songs on ‘Hold Fast’ are as simple as a guitar band can record them under a young indie band’s budget. There is a price to this forced frugality, however: there is an overdone echoey quality to both ‘American Girls’ and ‘The Cooler King’, though I suppose one could argue maybe these two numbers were recorded lo-fi specifically to match the early recordings of the Beatles? I do wonder.
The echo effect sounds fab on album closer ‘The I Love You Bridge’. However, the star of this show is third track ‘Stars’, with the lyrics taking a page from Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, speaking of being penniless, yet still completely happy together. Waite says in the chorus, “tell me how the stars still smile on us / and make the world disappear? / tell me in the darkness / stars still smile on us / tell me that you’re dancing just because / and whispered softly in my ear / tell me in the darkness / stars still smile on us”. Mark my words, this will be the most beautiful note progression and chorus released the year. The guitars, by Tom Dakin and lyricist Daniel Hopewell, sing to me in a way no other album has since Sam Halliday’s in ‘Tourist History’.
I’m a hopeless romantic, so I didn’t need much help getting to a state of enlightenment with help from this album. Waite’s voice and a single guitar, recorded with raw, banged chords, couldn’t sound any better if they tried. The echoes don’t bother me as much when a verse of “I love you, will you marry me? / It’s a magic trick, an escape from this” beckons. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. There is a reference to Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking novel On the Road (‘Sal Paradise’) but I’m too blinded by love to fully understand its meaning. Which brings me back to the point I was trying to get to all along. Romantic or not, ‘Hold Fast’ is so damn catchy that even if you’re just listening to it for the Crookes sound, songs will stay with you and make you smile. If it happens that you venture deeper into Daniel Hopewell’s lyrics, then I think you will be rewarded that much further.
The Crookes’ sophomore album ‘Hold Fast’ is out now on Fierce Panda.