Everything Everything - Man Alive Album Review
Selected for the long list of the BBC's "Sound of 2010" poll, Everything Everything chose to submit "My Keys Your Boyfriend" as the track that would define them the line up of tastemakers that the Beeb would use to judge the highbrow talent contest (No reality TV stars allowed, you see).
Up against the likes of Ellie Goulding, fellow Manchester residents Delphic and Marina & The Diamonds, the quartet failed to make the pollsters' top five, but the song itself attached to my brain like a limpet. A bombastic mix of falsetto vocals, skyscraping eighties synth-pop riffs and fidgety time signatures, the lyrics told of a self destructive menage-a-trois from the perspective of a mind-shocked other man, even finding time to include references to offbeat devices like the Farady Cage. In short, the overall impression was of a band so bursting with ideas that you imagined the concept of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus probably causes them physical pain.
I immediately decided that this was the work of genius, the kind of thing that exposed Delphic as the kind of third rate New Order copyists that deep down we all know they are. Except that once I'd despatched My Keys Your Boyfriend onto a dozen mix CD's, one by one the recipients came back a little bemused. Surfer Blood? very good they said. Two Door Cinema Club? diaphanous wee young dreamers. But Everything Everything? well, they just didn't get it.
Those guys will probably struggle with Man Alive as well. And I kinda get why they don't get it; the idea of indie nerd-dance after all has been championed by Hot Chip ever since Over and Over, plus it's feet for dancing, not grey matter, right? And I have to admit that there's no monopoly on originality here either, as second track in QWERTY finger proves by sounding like it could easily have come from Late of The Pier's illusory post new rave excercise Fantasy Black Channel.
Were the North East and Kentish migrants just being clever dicks, Man Alive would probably have ended up sounding about as exciting as an episode of University Challenge. But nobody exploits the eccentric genius riff better than the British, and in places Everything Everything echo the unfulfilled new wave promise of critically adored heavyweights like XTC and The Teardrop Explodes. It's a mottled journey alright - take Schoolin' for instance, in places little more musically than a drum break and a text message delivery tone, but lyrically scrambled, with abstractions like "Brother you look like the Taj Mahal/One collosal dome above you/And a smell of something other". Frustratingly for those who like to sing along in the car, both the pitch and velocity of lead singer Jonathan Everything's delivery frequently prohibit getting a clean take on words like this, making the general rule throughout that if you think that's what he said, then he probably said it.
Ok, I hear you saying, it's that old "Kids bullied at school, buy laptop and thesaurus, make bedroom electronica" gig again. Not quite so. Retrieved from 2008, first single Suffragette Suffragette for instance swings from afrobeat to rock out seamlessly, whilst NASA Is On Our Side surprisingly delivers a full on lighters in the air ballad experience which feels made for this year's festival circuit. Were I to tell you that Come Alive Diana even throws in a slightly overwrought brass section - presumably because they could - then I doubt that by now there'd be even the vaguest hint of surprise. And yes, it does.
I'm minded to say something quite profound here, a horrible cliche in a bag like "Strange is the new normal". Animal Collective after all have even reached a point finally where Merriweather Post Pavillion was record of the week in The Sun. But in reality the nearest point of comparison between Man Alive's closer Weights, of it's three part harmonies and bittersweet melancholy, is with The Beta Band, both outfits sharing some of the same DNA, one still functioning but with probably lessons to be learned from the other about the confluence of major label expectation and supposed creative freedom. Truly, it pains me to see Steve Mason slogging his way round the toilet circuit, but that angst is some way off yet for Everything Everything. And in the words of the great Bamber Gascoigne, Man Alive is a great starter for ten.