The Wind-Up Birds want to take you to a place where it's always raining; a grimy, post-industrial northern town where you can't go to the pub without being accosted by a knuckle-headed racist, where the only good record shop has just shut down and you can only escape the grim, relentless present by retreating into bleak memories of your childhood. They aren't a barrel of laughs.
The Land is indie rock directed by Ken Loach, all hard-faced social realism, eleven unembellished depictions of life as a downtrodden nobody. How you react to vocalist Paul Ackroyd's vignettes will determine how you react to the album because the lyrics are both the most attention-grabbing and, frankly, the best thing about the band. Otherwise, they're not doing anything that hasn't been done before with a little more panache, whether it's careering post-post-post-punk (the distant memory of a Buzzcocks track nagging at the periphery of Alex Turner's consciousness) or studiedly epic indie. There's a lot of well-executed stuff here - 'Good Shop Shuts' and 'Cross-Country' get the album off to a dynamic, catchy start but, stripped of Ackroyd's tales of woe, The Wind-Up Birds would be just another set of above-average triers.
This is not to say that Ackroyd has no peers; a cursory listen to his sung-spoken stories will bring to mind a bundle of reference points, chief amongst them Turner, Mark E Smith and Art Brut's Eddie Argos. Those are the names which have cropped up in a number of reviews of the band's work, including my own assessment of their promising Courage, For Tomorrow Will Be Worse EP. On that record, Ackroyd's observations were sometimes a little hackneyed and leaden-footed - a problem which is mostly avoided here. The only moments which fall flat are the occasional laboured joke ('The teacher said 'Take your time Paul'/He was being sarcastic, that's not what he wanted at all') and a clichéd dismissal of football ('Some rich blokes in a sporting arena/Got beat by some other blokes'). He's otherwise in good form, with the spoken word piece 'Nostalgic For...' bringing to life a torrid childhood and 'Escape From New Yorkshire' reaching out for and firmly grasping hold of the listener's heartstrings. He lacks Smith's artistry and gift for wonderfully bewildering turns of phrase, but he's still a cut above most other indie lyricists.
What you'll hear on The Land, then: eleven snappy, enthusiastically performed indie rock tracks, mostly barrelling along in a manner reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys or The Rakes, topped off by plain-spoken reflections on the grim reality of nine to five life. At this point, you're probably either ordering the record or hurriedly backing away, but the undecided should give 'Good Shop Shuts' or 'Escape From New Yorkshire' a spin.
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