Album Review: The Heartbreaks – We May Yet Stand a Chance

By on Friday, 30th May 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Morecambe band The Heartbreaks are an unusual proposition in today’s music climate. After reading this disheartening article in the Observer last weekend whose contents I knew to be true but I didn’t enjoy reading it spelled out in black and white, I’m positive they’re the kind of band that doesn’t fit into anyone’s boxes and won’t get a fair shake at Radio 1. Ever. But one gets the distinct feeling the Heartbreaks were never in it to gain approval from those kinds of suits.

That’s something very Northern of them: wanting to write and put out the kind of music they want, the way they wanted to, and sod everyone else. ‘We May Yet Stand a Chance’ is proof of this. I mean, for one, just look at the title. It’s a sneer, albeit a veiled one, to the people who say bands like them will never make it. It’s witty, in the vein of what their former tourmate and idol Morrissey might write. Yet it’s tinged with optimism, that there is underlying hope, that success is achievable, that there’s a method to the madness. But is this album truly enough to make their voices heard?

‘We May Yet Stand a Chance’ is the second album from the lads, and it’s being released 2 years on from ‘Funtimes’, which featured several pop gems including my personal favourite ‘I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You’ and the song that was voted by the readers of The Fly as the best song of 2012 and made the BBC’s Steve Lamacq sit up and take notice of the group, ‘Delay, Delay’. Lammo’s support of the group continues with this album, having famously decreed in February that after listening to the new album and determining how great it was, he would quit his post at 6music if the suits didn’t find it in their hearts to play the band’s music. That’s about as good as a golden endorsement as you’re ever going to get from the indie band champion of the world. So far, the band have released three singles, two of which found great support among TGTF ranks: Martin reviewed ‘¡No Pasarán!’ in October and extolled its nod to Ennio Morricone and sonic epicness, and when I was in holiday in Sheffield earlier this month, I applauded the incredible pop melody and thoughtful lyrics of drummer Joe Kondras in ‘Absolved’.

However, as a complete album, the song order of the album doesn’t work well, nor do I think it’s particularly cohesive as a group of songs put together. I understand every band’s interest in putting all their energy into the singles they plan to release, since those are the ones that have the chance to get picked up by radio. In the Heartbreaks’ case, I think the album suffers from a lack of momentum, especially after getting a running start with singles ‘Absolved’ and ‘Hey, Hey Lover’, the latter of which begins gracefully but becomes a monster of a commanding love song. Much of the rest of the album’s instrumentation centres on the deft guitar work of Ryan Wallace, but the songs are of the slow burn, reflective, introspective variety and might disappoint those expecting an album full of ‘Absolved’ and ‘Hey, Hey Lover’ clones.

As a concept on paper, LP opener ‘Paint the Town Beige’ should work: it’s an exercise in calling out the sanitisation and gentrification of our cities so they’re more palatable for the richer echelons of society. However, it gives the false impression that the rest of the album is…well…equally slimy and downtrodden. It’s a lot to take in, if that’s your initial whiff of this album. (Later on, the album is bookended by ‘Dying Sun’, which brings their political views back up to the surface, but whether or not this will serve to their benefit or detriment remains to be seen.) ‘Robert Jordan’ is presumably about the doomed character in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, whose own ideals were changed by the brutality of the Spanish civil war.

“What would it take / for your world to shake / and to disturb your soul / and make you believe in something other than that what you have?” sings frontman Matthew Whitehouse. As stirring as words are – you’re going to find in the albums released this year – the bigger problem is not the song itself but rather who are going to take to this song, or not. ‘Fair Stood the Wind’, which the Heartbreaks previewed at their support slot at Fierce Panda’s 19th birthday party slamdown last year headlined by their mates the Crookes (scroll down the review and you’ll see live video of the song), is a gorgeously tender ballad with sad guitar appropriate for the words, which I found in this one particularly painful. The repeated lyrics speaking of “the obsession of the moment” for Kondras: unrequited love.

Then there are the moments that make you scratch your head. The tempo picks up slightly with ‘Bittersweet’, with underlying funkiness I never would have expected from the Heartbreaks. An unexpected plus. Later, the softness and sadness of ‘Fair Stood the Wind’ is strangely followed up by the mess that is ‘Man Overboard’, a lackadaisical hoedown. It’s a clear misstep, unless they were purposely trying to take the edge off the previous song?

You have to wonder how this all came about, if in the same exact album they can write something like ‘Rome’, a sweeping beauty with handclap flourishes and uplifting guitar you want to hug close to your chest, it’s so stunning. Maybe the problem with ‘We May Yet Stand a Chance’ is its lack of focus. The Heartbreaks should be commended for wanting to bring up social issues in pop and taking the chance to do so, but I have less faith that the casual music fan will be willing to sit still through this 39-minute album.

6/10

The Heartbreaks’ sophomore album ‘We May Yet Stand a Chance’ will be out next Monday, the 2nd of June, on Nusic Sounds. Catch the band gigging tonight at London Oslo. Below is the band’s trailer for the album with a clip of ‘Paint the Town Beige’.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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