Glasvegas

The first and, as of yet, only time I’ve actually seen Glasvegas play live, was in the Uncut tent on the Sunday afternoon of Latitude. The context wasn’t ideal – I remember being about as far back as it was possible to be without actually being outside, and lodged somewhere within that joyous festival equilibrium of hungover drunkenness – and so my memories of the actual performance are indistinct, fragmentary, and actually slightly surreal: a collage of colour, nausea and Glaswegian vowels.

{{ quote “…Allen’s vocal is consistently astonishing, frequently splintering itself with its own emotional electricity…” }}

In fact, the only thing that I remember particularly clearly about that entire afternoon is my rather reductive response to my brother’s enquiries about a band who, it turns out a couple of months down the line, represent the Alan McGee-ordained Future Of British Music: kind of, well, dated-sounding was how I put it, I believe. Goodness. I know, my insight surprises me sometimes too.

And yet, while I acknowledge that the five words I allotted to them back in July hardly do Glasvegas particular justice – I realise, now, that my comment was kind of akin to summarising The Smiths as y’know, “that Northern band” or The Pixies as “the ones with the fat singer” – I’d still argue, even having listened to their superb, self-titled debut a great deal, that I sort of, kind of, maybe, a little bit, just about had a point. Not because of the band’s well-publicised desire to replicate Phil Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’ aesthetic with guitars, or because of the fact that in their efforts in that direction they sound, at times, more than a little bit like, say, The Jesus and Mary Chain, or My Bloody Valentine. No, it’s because Glasvegas write big, bona fide, well-rounded, proper songs, which place much more of an emphasis on melody and meaning, than on novelty, or innovation – and which make the concept of a zeitgeist seem tawdry and cynical. And the simple reality is, that not a lot of bands do that anymore.

Except gash ones, anyway; obviously, the concept of ‘sceneless’ music appeals to the likes of Coldplay and U2 no end, largely because of the difficulty they’d have in actually locating a/the zeitgeist, let alone writing music with it in mind, if they ever decided that they wanted a piece of it – which, of course, they never do, unless the zeit is defined by Ethiopian famine, and the geist is a potty-mouthed Irishman whose name sort of rhymes with Bob, fuck off.

But what marks Glasvegas out as so different from so many of their contemporaries is the transcendental nature of what they ultimately come up with: though one can found some of its myriad facets in genres and movements of the past, it is also crafted with a vision and a scope that is fundamentally timeless. And that, that is the paradox, from which this glorious record draws so much of its energy and vitality – a paradox made sense of by so many great artists of the past, from Elvis (one of the band’s biggest influences) to Bowie.

Let’s call it dated-in-a-good-way for the moment, then. Of course, this juggling act is helped immeasurably by the fact that singer and principal songwriter, James Allen, writes insightful songs about things that actually, you know, mean something; sounds obvious, but it never occurred to Late of the Pier, did it? You’ve probably heard ‘Daddy’s Gone’, the band’s hyped-into-oblivion-and-beyond breakthrough single which counters genuinely moving emotional catharsis – “How you are my hero/ How you’re never here though/ Remember times when you put me on your shoulders/ How I wish it was forever you would hold us” – with cascading layers of guitar, a Christmas-Number-One tambourine beat and a melody that wouldn’t be out of place in a Supremes song.

It’s by no means unique: the likes of ‘Geraldine’, which resembles a stadium-sized love song in all but the remarkable, seemingly out-of-nowhere line it culminates in – “My name is Geraldine, I’m your social worker” – and ‘Go Square Go’, which injects an almost torch-song-esque dignity into a refrain which simply goes “here we fucking go”, display the band’s understatedly intelligent and constantly surprising approach to songwriting in just as sharp a light.

And that is not to mention the stony-faced integrity which positively reverberates from every chord which tumbles out of Rab Allen’s guitar, and every crack in his frontman-cousin’s wonderful brogue. Glasvegas’ appearance aside – they resemble The Velvet Underground’s intense, rockabilly cousins – there is an intent, a belief and a strength of purpose at the heart of each and every one of these ten tracks, that smashes into you like a fist in the mouth, whether it comes in the form of ‘Flowers and Football Tops’ ‘Just-Like-Honey’-with-homicidal-intent drumbeat, or James Allen’s hiss that “no cavalry/ Could ever save me” in the remarkable ‘Stabbed’. Indeed, Allen’s vocal is consistently astonishing, frequently splintering itself with its own emotional electricity, and all the more sinister for the manner in which it is bedecked with the doo-wop “babies” and “whoah whoahs” that have got so many critics so extravagantly excited.

The bottom line with Glasvegas the record (and, indeed, Glasvegas the band) is that I’d challenge anybody – even the world’s most passionate Mary Chain fan, or one of those people who are offended by the mere concept of earnest pop music – to dispute the fact that, whatever its (their) problems, it (they) just genuinely sounds, for the most part, fucking fantastic. Though don’t get me wrong, there are problems: Allen’s look-how-clever-I’m-being relish in integrating and referencing the enormously well-known – everything from “liar, liar, pants on fire” and “twinkle, twinkle, little star”, to ‘You are my Sunshine’ and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ – in his songwriting, is at times lazy, at others rather melodramatic and consistently irritating in the extreme. And while we’re on the subject of melodramaticism, it’d be wrong not to also point out that Glasvegas do, at times, flirt a little too obviously with out and out hamminess – the last minute-and-a-half of ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, for example, may prove a little too much for the more cynical kids out there.

But the overriding truth of the album is that it represents a collection of songs which will bring a shimmering intensity – an outpouring of inverted Vegas glamour, if you will – to a music scene rather lacking in, well, scale. Indeed, just as it took a band from Las Vegas to reinvigorate the drab and monochrome nature of British pop music circa. 2003, so five years down the line it’s going to be a band called Glasvegas who remind us that the word “epic”, when used to describe songwriting, is not inherently synonymous with the word “shite”. And for that, at least, we should surely cherish them.

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