The Wave Pictures - Beer In The Breakers Album Review
The Wave Pictures are a prolific bunch. Beer In The Breakers is the band's eleventh album, not including their Bruce Springsteen tribute album, which featured ten Springsteen covers. Add to that collection a whole host of E.P.s and a single released in collaboration with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, and you could pretty much start an entire record store devoted to the works of The Wave Pictures. It would probably go out of business within a few days, but it's possible.
Such prolificness is unusual in a band like this. You'd expect this kind of productivity from a more lyrically-focused singer-songwriter, but a rock band? However, it doesn't take long to realise that The Wave Pictures isn't an ordinary rock band. There aren't any notable melodic hooks; the drums gently rustle along and the bass is bland, but words are consistently flowing from lead-singer David Tattersall's mouth. It sounds as though he got bored of strumming an acoustic guitar, found a drummer, a bassist and a stratocaster and ventured into the wilderness of indie rock, but forgot to leave his book of stories behind.
Beer In The Breakers begins hidden behind a veil of indie dullness. Opener 'Blue Harbour' is upbeat, jangly, predictable pop that wouldn't be out of place on an episode of Hollyoaks. The next song, 'Now Your Smile Comes Over In Your Voice', begins in much the same manner, but improves vastly when Tattersall's inner storyteller begins to show its face, and there are some very well-observed lyrics about exploring rock pools: "Once you went searching rock pools with your best friend's younger brother/Left the hotel breakfast waiting with your parents and your best friend/The skinless fish and soft rolls and the lightbulbs/To go searching through blue rock pools in Devon." The characters in these songs don't really do anything very interesting, except go about their lives, but Tattersall loads his descriptions with so much detail and humanity that they're genuinely charming. Sometimes it feels as though a line is thrown in purely to catch the ear, like "Who are you to tell me that I look depressed?/You wouldn't know it but I'm at my best" in 'Little Surprise', which isn't a bad thing, but for the most part the lyrics are intricate illustrations of human lives and feelings.
Also unusual, for an indie rock band, is the prevalence of instrumental solos. Every song except three has at least one Santana-style clean guitar solo, and of the other three, two have bass solos and the other a lengthy harmonica solo. Some of these are quick and skilful, with Tattersall exploring pentatonic scales at an impressive speed, while others are sparse; sometimes with seconds of silence between each note. The instrumental breaks don't really add anything to the majority of the songs though, and while they're pleasant enough to listen to, sometimes they feel like they're just filling time.
The sleepy, slow-paced 'Walk The Back Stairs Quiet' is among the album's highlights. Tattersall's voice is at its best in this song. Quiet but heavy with feeling, he sings about ice cream scoops and feeling tired in a kitchen. The solo is superb, and absolutely not a space filler - with slow drums, and sporadic bass, the guitar oozes emotion, and every note paints part of a picture. The closer, 'Epping Forest', also contains a powerful jam session, which rounds off an articulate and relatively subdued album with a touch of swagger.
No wonder these guys collaborated with The Mountain Goats. Tattersall's detailed, realistic verbal portraits of human beings are similar to those written by John Darnielle, but not as good. Beer In The Breakers is bound to disappoint some and be a pleasant surprise to others. For those who listen to it expecting shallow, catchy indie pop, it could be a let down. On the other hand, those who enjoy witty and observant lyrics might find something that they like, hidden amongst all of the face-melting solos and the not-so-clever lines that occasionally make an appearance.
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