Album review of 'Fantasy Black Channel' by Late Of The Pier released through Parlophone.
Borne out of Nottingham's extravagant Liars Club scene and certainly not afraid to flaunt their own eccentricity in public, Late Of The Pier have emerged as one of the UK's hottest tips in terms of taking music forward into another dimension. Maybe years spent growing up in the rural pastures of Castle Donington have taken their toll, and the only escape from the harsh realities of local life were dreams of space and its other-reaching worlds of possibility, but in terms of imagination and inventiveness, Late Of The Pier are as unpredictable as it gets.
Undoubtedly inspired by both Klaxons and their rock'n'rave crossover plus the anglo-American eighties tinged pop nuances of bands like The Killers, 'Fantasy Black Channel' and its creators doesn't hold back on letting the listener know who or where its influences came from. Lead single 'Space And The Woods' could be a duet between Brandon Flowers and Tubeway Army such is its tendency to digress uneasily between both ball parks, while 'Broken' sounds like early Depeche Mode remixed by Bang Olufsen's in-house DJ.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned couplet are undoubtedly two of 'Fantasy Black Channel''s brightest moments, as one of Late Of The Pier's main idiosyncrasies is also one of their major downfalls. While full credit must be given to the band for at least resisting the temptation to adhere to any conformed notion of normality, the fact they attempt to cram so many different styles into a single song occasionally hampers the overall substance, and ultimately on more than one occasion 'Fantasy Black Channel' finds itself lacking in the tunes department.
For example, 'Bathroom Gurgle' could be split into three separate unrelated pieces of music entirely, and by the time the frantic chorus kicks in on the final third, only those with the most ardent depths of staying power wouldn't have lost interest by then. Similarly 'The Bears Are Coming', which doesn't so much roam aimlessly like a lost rambler in the Arizona desert but simply straddles between bleakness and obscurity in equally disparaging measures.
While to some these may only be minor blips, the feeling here is that Late Of The Pier have tried to be too clever for their own good and in doing so neglected the most important aspect of the songwriting process, i.e., the songs themselves. Of course all this is forgotten by the time 'Whitesnake' and 'The Enemy Are The Future' kick the album back into its stride with delicious pop hooks stolen straight from the temples of Mael and Mercury respectively, while the epileptic fits and starts of 'Focker' actually resemble a rave conducted entirely on (almost) traditional musical instrumentation rather than scratched records and overused samples.
For someone still not entirely convinced by Late Of The Pier, 'Fantasy Black Channel' is a damn sight better record than expected, and even with Erol Alkan at the controls their sound never becomes pigeonholed. Flip the coin over to the other side and their overall lack of real identity could become a problem in the long-term, particularly if the age old arguments of style over substance continue to dog Late Of The Pier's forthcoming output. Still, 'Fantasy Black Channel' is as good a place to start as any, so it's all onwards and upwards from hereon in.