Slow Club ‘Complete Surrender’ – Review

5 Aug

It seems you have to be moderately antagonistic to be in a duo. It’s more like playing off your partner, rather than with them. I am of course thinking of Jack and Meg, but equally it applies to The Black Keys or No Age or even Royal Blood. But then at the other extreme you have the folk duos of the 60’s who placed great emphasis on harmonising and melting in to each other. Even then though the duos were often pitted against each other, dueling partners in romance and therefore song. This friction intensified in mainstream pop where the likes of Ike and Tina, Marvin and Tami, even Sonny and Cher used blatant animosity to produce some sparkling songs of conflict. Slow club, a duo from Sheffield on their third album, strike me as being a different proposition entirely. They are clearly not lovers, nor are they in any kind of battle. There is a duality but there is no antagonism, friction or conflict to speak of. ‘Complete Surrender’ is a conversation between two old friends.

Slow Club rarely harmonise, nor do they eye each other out or confront one another. Mostly they sing in unity, wading through melodies hand in hand. Still each song has a leader, and Charle’s songs bounce off Rebecca’s. She sings of heartbreak and he offers kind consolation or advice. He sings about missing his friend and you wonder if he’s referring to her. It plays out like a dialogue where his mysterious musing is tempered by her brutal honesty whilst her insecurity is bolstered by his newly found confidence. She asks questions that he seems to answer and he gives optimism when you feel she’s got none left. It’s a perfectly balanced record.

Charles’ songs sound more like Slow Club tunes of years gone by, slightly twee and sentimental but ambiguously so. It’s hard to say what ‘Tears of Joy’ or ‘Everything is New’ are actually about, but they’re pretty songs that emote some kind of sincerity. These songs are more restrained than Rebecca’s numbers, and they’re laced in metaphor and poetic flourishes that expand their simplistic surface meanings.  They find the narrator in a quietly happy state of mind which affords him more time to observe and discuss ‘punk rock kids,’ ‘the boy with his head on the table’ and ‘mina’ – whoever they all are, we don’t find out much more about them frustratingly. Rebecca on the other hand is very much in a heartbroken state of mind, and therefore her songs unambiguously autobiographical and rightfully self-interested. Throughout the album she shares her realisations with stunning candour and directness –  ‘I’ll never move on’ and ‘I’m so much older than I want to be’, things like that.

Rebecca’s songs also have an intensely direct musicality as well. These are pure pop songs with pop song choruses and pop song arrangements and pop song sentiments. Horns and strings are deployed generously and shmultz is a prerequisite. The album was produced by Colin Elliot, responsible for Richard Hawley’s lush ‘Coles Corner’, and ‘Complete Surrender’ feels like the genuine article. It’s not a homage to Northern Soul and 60’s pop, it’s more than that. These are songs that live and breathe genuine emotions, and avoid imitation. There are no pretences, no knowing allusions – every musical detail sounds like a necersary, even vital communication straight from the heart.

‘Complete Surrender’ is a soothing album, often as sombre and reflective as it is melodramatic. Rebecca’s voice is capable of being silky and soft one minute then quickly shifting in to something almost jaw droppingly powerful. In many cases it’s the delicate moments of reflection that offer the most reward. confessional lyricism on ‘Friends and other things I’m sure of’ it is utterly moving, and Charles’ stream of consciousness meandering on ‘Number One’ lets us peer at unadulterated honesty.  He tells the unamed subject (possibly Rebecca) ‘Anytime you want to sing i’m here, just like tonight’ and he sells us on the idea. As much as this album is a dialogue between two friends, it’s also an album that invites you the listener to feel involved. These are warm, involving, intimate songs that reach out and seem to talk to you personally. It’s an album about the devastating impact of love that ironically leaves you feeling reassured and optimistic about the necessity of relationships. These two voices alone, working so beautifully together, are evidence enough that two people can coexist in love and harmony.

8.5/10

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