Citizens! ‘Here We Are’ – Review

29 Jun

A few years ago Citizens would have been eaten up by a major label and spat out for a ravenous public. Adjectives like ‘angular’ and jagged’ would have been tossed about at any given opportunity, and indie clubs would have been full to the brim of skinny boys and girls pulling shapes to the sound of ‘True Romance’. Tastes change quickly and now Citizens can count themselves lucky that their debut album is being released on Kitsune, a tiny but highly respected French indie. It’s a shame, in a sense, that you won’t hear these songs on the radio because, above all else, Citizens make cracking pop songs. These are tunes rich with melody, wrapped in a steely cool production and dripping with indefinable cool. Citizens would look great on the cover of NME.

So concerned are they with image that even their songs sound like photographs; they capture a feeling or emotion and play with it for 3 or 4 minutes. Structurally there is little movement, the tunes are relatively static, but they are colourful, bright and detailed. The band make a point of collecting and combining sounds that don’t usually go together to create a wholly unique end product. This is fine, except the end product sounds a whole lot like Franz Ferdinand, which isn’t surprising given that Alex from said band produced this record. You can hear that group’s influence in the elastic basslines, the have your eye out guitar riffs and disco inspired drum beats. But Citizens are more considered than Franz, they have none of that group’s spontaneous energy, and you get the feeling that every second on this album has been carefully rehearsed and polished time and time again.

The album opens with ‘True Romance’, which, If you are tuned into the right channels, you should have heard a billion times already over the past 6 months. ‘Reptile’ and ‘In Love With Your Girlfriend’ have also had a fair bit of exposure recently and, whilst they aren’t quite as addictive, they’re still great examples of finely produced, minimalist indie pop. The group lay it on a bit thicker at times, such as on ‘Let’s Go All the Way’ and the ipod-advert-soundtrack-in-waiting ‘Monster’. Out of the 11 songs there were only a couple that I wasn’t taken by and it’s perhaps no surprise that they were the two slow songs; Citizens haven’t yet got the talent to keep you hooked when the tempo is turned down and the spotlight is on singer Tom Burke.

Burke has a rather slippery, nasal voice that is slightly cold and off-putting. He sings ‘Reptile’ like he’s the lizard in question, and this distant delivery makes it hard to connect with what he’s singing. It doesn’t help that his lyrics, whilst romantic in nature, are clinical and sharp – intelligent, no doubt, but elusive rather than insightful. I never get the feeling that I’m glimpsing into Burke’s heart and soul, nor do I feel that he’s revealing anything I haven’t heard before. These are just nice words that are easy to sing but hard to remember in the long term. At times this steeliness works in the band’s favour, it compliments their slick playing/clothing/haircuts, but when EVERYTHING is so straight faced… well, I just think everyone would have a better time if they cracked a smile once in a while, or alternatively, let their guards down more. That’s one thing Franz Ferdinand knew – yes they were cool and collected, but they never took themselves too seriously and you always got the feeling that Alex was being sincere and revealing.

Citizens are not the fully formed package then; they look great, and they know how to write catchy songs that sound great, yet they aren’t quite able to take it to the next level, there just isn’t any emotional resonance. But lets not forget that this is only a debut album, and not everyone is capable of making an album as perfect as ‘Franz Ferdinand’ first time around. If Citizens open up a bit more, work on acquiring some personality and stop taking themselves so damn seriously, I have no doubt that they will develop into a brilliant band. Alex knew what he was doing when he agreed to produce this – what’s that old saying? Keep your friends close but your enemies closer? Franz certainly have competition in the form of Citizens.



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