Angel Air 2013
Homecoming for their lucky seventh, Peterborough band praised by Steven Van Zandt and Overend Watts go vividly cinematic.
With “widescreen” a byword for this British ensemble’s previous effort, their first-ever album for a compatriot company – the preceding ones saw the light of day in America – makes the quartet’s movie angle extremely explicit. Note the “in” between the group’s name on the cover and the quotations marks around the record’s title; also pay attention to the way the photo under the lettering seems black-and-white yet bursts into color upon closer inspection. The same level of private investigation is given to many characters inhabiting the sixteen tracks on display and spectacularly moving its musical pictures through the urban landscape from the ’60s to the present.
One may be tempted to see THE CONTRAST’s Johnny The Torch go down the same route as THE KINKS’ Johnny Thunder and THE CLASH’s Jimmy Jazz, but the band’s definitive defiance is declared from the get-go, once “We Are The Monsters” takes the alienation baton passed along all of the Peterborough bunch’s oeuvre only to plant the song’s organ-driven harmonies – echoed, even more infectiously, in “Heavens To Murgatroyd” – straight into the listener’s heart. Jangle guitars create a warm welcoming atmosphere for the memorable parade of the upbeat “Balloon Man,” the translucent “Ghost Man,” and the elegiac, folky “Stick Man,” yet it’s not all channel-flicking and the flicks-channeling pastime, as singer David Reid proceeds to address strangers “Mr Snake” and “Mr Antenna” with a very appropriate Theremin oiling the piano-sprinkled skank of the latter and a scratchy riff on the former.
And it’s not the flashes of light all over the place, as violin changes the mood in “Saving My Breath” for a different kind of reflection, even though the “price on your head” warning turns into hope when the flow reaches the finale of “There’s Always A Chance” where the ultimate heroic dream is delivered in comic/cosmic terms. The kaleidoscopic crunch of the title cut and “Days Of Wonder” keeps the imagery afoot, while putting thin patina patterns around the melodies to fully realize this flurry of delights in “Maze Of Memories” with its transatlantic – Cambridgeshire to California – tinge. It’s anything but sinister, yet the thrill-seekers should embrace it and love it to bits.