Spector ‘Moth Boys’ – Review

31 Aug

In a recent interview with Drownedinsound, Fred McPherson answered three questions with variations on the statement ‘we’re not there yet’. He’s always been like this; self aware and self critical, almost cripplingly conscious of his class, intellect and Spector’s unfashionable sound. He knows that early interest in the band had a certain flash in the pan quality, and as he made clear in the title of the first album, he enjoyed it while it lasted. But now, on ‘Moth Boys’, he plots to move things forward whilst retaining the essential qualities of that debut – bright melodies, crisp production and finely observed lyrics.

To that extent it’s a moderately triumphant album. While there isn’t a chorus on here as memorable as ‘Never Fade Away’ or a hook as catchy as those found on ‘What You Wanted’, the songs add up to something more substantial than before. Spector have something to say and they say it with surprising sophistication.

‘Enjoy it While It Lasts’ was warmly received but arrived five years too late to make any kind of impact on the charts. Their three years away has only pushed the band further out of the limelight and if anything their synth pop indie is even less in vogue than it was in 2012. Rather than being deterred, if anything ‘Moth Boys’ is even more staunchly 80s than ‘Enjoy it whilst it last’ – sounding less like The Killers doing Duran Duran, and more just Duran Duran. ‘Cocktail Party’ is most obviously in love with that decade, from the comical slap bass right down to the groovy percussion that opens the song. Dev Hynes cowrote and produced the number and it’s drenched in his ‘Blood Orange’ Style. ‘Decade of Decay’, another Hynes production, tackles the cooler end of the 80s by channeling some of joy Division’s gloomy, tightly wound grandur.

The further the album travels towards its final destination, the darker and more claustrophobic the sound, and lyrics, get. ‘Wet End’ and ‘Bad Boyfriend’ are unflatteringly honest portrayals of selfishness, arrogance and greed. Both songs are hooky in a certain twisted way, but deliberately hold back from being the type of sky scraping anthems that come so easily to Spector. There are interesting layers of irony and subtlety here.

The predominant subject of the album, as it was on the last one, is the relationship. In contemporary guitar music, only Alex Turner has a better capacity for describing modern intimacy with this level of wit, humour and sophistication. Fred depicts love as something that has to compete for attention with technology, substances and other distractions. Brilliant single ‘Stay High’ depicts scenarios of contemporary affection; ‘Bonding over people we hate/ one socket left I let you charge your phone, these are the ways that we show our love.’ These songs live in 2015 and the characters are very much the children of twitter and Instagram, captive to images on screens and cynical about old fashioned romance. The most telling moment comes when Fred sings ‘if you think you’re lonely now just wait till we’re alone’ but the implication is that in the age of the iPhone, we’re never really alone and we’re never really happy.

‘Kyoto Garden’ is a pretty moment of clawing despondency where Fred bellows ‘If I was you I’d hate me too, I get it’ over the sound of twinkling garden chimes and booming synth pad drums. The song contains one of several drug references on the album; while the early instruction is to ‘stay high’ in order to preserve and prolong fleeting movements of joy, the album grows more cynical as it progresses, drawing pictures of drugs’ destructive and divisive nature on ‘Cocktail Party’ and ‘Bad Boyfriend’.

The final song is a dead end; ‘heaven let me down, it wasn’t worth dying for.’ This is a clear metaphor; the characters of these songs use and get used by drugs and technology, they seek success and recognition, look for happiness in relationships and then end up feeling let down and despondent. They are the moth boys of the title, flying towards lights that ultimately frazzle them, whether that’s drugs or happiness or fame – they’re all mirages. This is quite a bleak and powerful message from a band formally known for their silly exuberance and lack of substance. The fact that they haven’t lost any of their pop smarts makes ‘Moth Boys’ an even more impressive artistic statement.

8/10

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