Cats on Fire - Our Temperance Movement
Bill Cummings 25/06/2009
Ever heard of the indie pop bands from the 80s Postcard record label? Finnish band Cats on Fire (who are fond of wearing neckerchiefs on stage) clearly have, because their new album 'Our Temperance Movement' (the follow up to 2007's debut offering), they refine a sound that echoes the works of 80s jangle poppers Orange Juice, Aztec Camera like fellow Scandanavians Northern Portrait and Another Sunny Day.
Occasionally the work of The Smiths threatens to overshadow this album, the glistening Rickenbaker riffs, choppy rhythms and frontman Mattias Björkas's sensitive Morrissey crooning mixed with Edwyn Collins style phrasing come dangerously close to homage. For example, opener 'Tears in your Cup' nestles on a pretty choppy riff that could be the distant cousin of the Smiths' classic 'Still Ill.' This impression is not helped when 'Lay Down your Arms' collapses into a 'Vicar in a Tutu' pastiche from the intro's chopping rockabilly riff, and tumbling yodelling melody. 'Fabric' delicately skips through green grass staring at its navel with a slightly fey and ineffective rather too twee, almost sickly, set of lyrics ('I'm here with my four-leaf clover?'), while its outro throws distant echoes of 'The Boy with the Thorn in his side.
Thankfully, 'Garden Lights' isn't a Golden lights tribute, but it can't escape the shadow of Moz through its rattling acoustic intro which sounds initially like Morrissey's acoustic reworking of The Jam's 'That's Entertainment'. Its twisting melodies hide positively bitter feelings of revenge: sinister words that nestle amongst the generally upbeat indie pop facade (replete with oboe solo); one has visions of someone standing at the bottom of the garden with a petrol can, matches in hand. ('Alone with this evil dream/ with oil and matches/flicker when I think of you/I often do'.)
Luckily this album is often rescued by cleverly crafted personal observations of lead singer Björkas, but also it has joyfulness in its sheer hummability and its jangling tunes performed by core members Hopponen (electric guitar), Kenneth Höglund (bass guitar) and Henry Ojala (drums). The effortlessly winding shiny seaside pop melodies of 'Letters from a Voyage to Sweden' aches with the kind of witty prosaic observations of human life that are scattered throughout the disc ('when will they learn? Too much adultery just poisons your mind.'). There's delicacy too, as in the wistfully plucked 'Never Sell the House', which is pleasingly reminiscent of the sensitivity of early Belle and Sebastian.
There's a political element here too, a personal manifesto that runs through much of this record. There's the early REM-eqsque chiming 'Horroscope' that dwells on a frustrated love affair that makes him question his entire life, railing first against materialism, the idea that our lives are mapped out, then a yearning to escape home shores, finally sending his lover on the way with a bitter Cocker-esque kiss off. ('You come from a family who can afford to be eccentric/go back and cry to them'.)
Cats on Fire could have produced another set of tunes too overly in awe of their thinly veiled influences, but mostly their delightful interpretations of the classics of the C86/Postcard era mean that I for one thoroughly enjoyed this album. Sure, it's not wholly original, the references at times threaten to outshine it. But it's peppered with enough addictive tunes, poised vocal performances, and what separates it from the many of jangle pop throng are the clever lyrics that draw pictures of the personal politics of human relationships. It's this that will have you reaching for the repeat button, seeking out these tuneful pearls, which makes 'Our Temperance Movement' a qualified success.