The Electric Soft Parade
No Need to Be Downhearted
hile No Need to Be Downhearted is taken from a Mark E. Smith lyric sheet, it could easily be construed as a personal mantra for the Electric Soft Parade’s principal players—brothers, Alex and Tom White. Initially touted as a ‘next big thing’ (their critically acclaimed 2002 debut Holes in the Wall was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize) the Brighton based band spent a sizable amount of money on their second album, 2003’s The American Adventure, thanks to record company cajoling. A slightly darker version of their debut’s Britpop revivalism, Adventure failed to ignite sufficient sales and the band was subsequently dropped.
Burned by the affair, the brothers (along with Eamon Hamilton of British Sea Power) put their energy into the Brakes, a side project that, over time, turned into a serious proposition. Fueled by this success and the do it yourself aesthetic attached to the project, the Electric Soft Parade reconvened for the release of 2005’s six-track The Human Body EP. It proved to be a catalyst for this, their third album—recorded by the band themselves with no budget bearing down upon them.
But without a record company to rein them in or a producer to pare things down, No Need to Be Downhearted often delves into excess, throwing up tempo changes and disparate song styling throughout. A balmy Britpop pick and mix, its lack of cohesion ultimately makes for an ADD addled album that can’t decide what it wants to be, veering off in several directions, but never making it to a deserved (effort wise at least) destination.
“If That’s the Case, Then I Don’t Know” meshes derivative indie-disco funk inflections with detached Joy Division vocals, before straying into a straight-up rock chorus. Similarly, the six-minute “Woken By a Kiss” weaves its way through spacey shoegaze guitar to a minimalist marimba adorned middle eight to Oasis-style pop pomp before ending with a spazz rock relay between baton wielding guitars and synths. The oddest combination however, comes on “Misunderstanding” which mixes Wake Up-era Boo Radleys with the dreamy “rain down” refrain from Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”
These constant intra-song contrasts deter as much as they delight. It’s as if their songwriting process was persistently permeated with too many tea breaks. The band’s problem is that, instead of offering variants on a style, they style themselves on different variants. Each song contains several disparate parts that work as singular entities but wane when pulled together. It’s odd then, having said this, that as the album forges ahead, it begins to falter because the band, instead of expanding their palette, dips back into prior musical pots. The final four songs mine the same melodic guitar and synthetic squiggles that string the whole affair together, sounding like an Electric Soft Parade parody: The aural equivalent of a Xerox of a Xerox.
While the music is all over the place the vocals feel pinned down and flat. Only on the vocoder accentuated “Life in the Backseat,” which sounds like a space rock Strokes, or on the hushed tones of “Secrets” do they emote any feeling. Correspondingly, the lyrics lack substance, dealing with ruminations on regret and relationships in its many forms, but do so in a dour, elementary fashion.
Despite the album’s disparate styles, the band does blend them with a certain idiosyncratic idolatry, coming off as eager mid ‘90s revivalists. (It’s perhaps fitting that former Dodgy drummer, Matthew Priest, provides the rhythmic backbone.) The constant lack of direction however, let’s them down, which makes me think they should have named the album after another Fall lyric instead: “Dear Lord, help them in their abject search.”
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2007-04-23