The Music - Strength in Numbers
Simon Jay Catling 19/05/2008
Six years ago, things were a lot different. Nu-metal was on the way out, The Libertines were on the way in; I was but a multi-octave voiced fourteen year old dusting myself down after getting used to the idea that Limp Bizkit weren't really that great, and that owning the Ministry Of Sound Annual didn't equate to possessing a 'diversity in music taste'. On my pubescent voyage through music, I took with me Muse, Placebo and (somewhat ill-fatedly) My Vitriol. There was another band though who didn't make it all the way through. Upon leaving school two years ago Muse were bigger than ever and Placebo were still grudgingly receiving regular airings on my speakers. For Leeds four piece The Music however, it looked like the end of the road. A self-titled debut album of startling energy and baggy-era joy de vivre had become the soundtrack to an otherwise dull year 10; and when I finally got to see the group live in 2004, they sent the creaking Northumbria University venue into delirium for almost two hours. With 'Welcome To The North' showing a step forward for the group, it seemed in my then naïve sixteen year old eyes that The Music were going to be huge. But then, just as quickly as they rose, they fell away and went silent. I grew up, left school, hit my indie elitist phase and went to University where I started listening to bands who never sang, and for whom a song less than seven minutes long would be deemed a potential single.
It's with the air of an old flame then that The Music return in 2008. A band who could quite rightfully claim that they were “nu-rave” a long time before such piss poor genre names were dreamt up are back to find the likes of the Klaxons earning praise for marrying dance and rock in a far flimsier manner than the Kippax group managed to do so over half a decade earlier. What marked The Music's debut out as such a crossover success was that they managed to bottle the atmosphere they created live and contain it in the studio: no cheap casio keyboards, no needless squiggles and bleeps and no fucking glo-sticks- just rhythms and riffs. Fast forward a bit and fans of the band will be pleased to know that it appears Rob Harvey has come out of hiding with an intent to revisit those days, as the title track opens the album with a sharp, glitchy snare that punctuates Adam Nutter's jagged guitar. It's a great return for the band and can't fail to put a smile on the face. Better yet is 'The Spike', which simmers and bubbles before bursting forth into the kind of chorus that can surely be classified by now as 'The Music stomp'. Harvey's lyrics throughout the album focus very much on trying to leave the past behind, moving forward and finding unity; a simple message and one which admittedly sometimes comes across a little elementary (“how can I fly if you won't give me wings”). The conviction of his delivery rings through however- after all, this is a man who has faced more than his fair share of demons in the intervening years between albums: drugs, deaths and depression have all left their mark on the lead singer who, at still only 25 years old, comes across as a far more composed and measured person. In tandem with this outlook, the band aren't scared to attempt new things either- 'Idle' lurks in the depths; all hushed vocals and deep bass, to portray a very ambient vibe of techno.
However, the best bits on 'Strength In Numbers' remain those that recall The Music at their early, thrilling best. The aforementioned title track and 'The Spike' aside, there's plenty of other standout moments that'll please fans old and new. 'Fire' doesn't hang about: a three minute dance floor filler that surges through your brain and out again before you even have time to take breath; perhaps even topping the heady heights of 'Take The Long Road' and co. 'Get Through It' jitters and shudders its way through the verse to once again launch an all-or-nothing epic of a chorus upon our ear drums, allowing Harvey's voice to leap and soar through the tight riffs and driving percussion. 'No Weapon Sharper Than A Will' meanwhile really does turn time back to those house parties and late summer nights of youth- a simple snare and hi-hat keeps things steady before erupting into an all encompassing call-to-arms that pisses all over The Whip in the art of providing rock ready rave music. Sadly, like the return of all lost loves, things don't always feel quite so right; because for every great moment on this album, there's another song just round the corner that tries to ape it just a little too much- as though The Music, having nailed down a sound of their own, are desperate to ring every last drop out of it. No one was expecting them to return with another 'Too High' or 'Human', but with such a relentless pursuit of an energetic and accelerated sound, the band at times retread familiar paths a tad too much. Hence why 'Drugs' goes on a minute or two too long, and why many of the songs- 'The Vision' and 'The Last One' to name but two, share the same tempo and rhythms as others on the album. The idea is clear: the percussion holds the album together, but the execution is such that it can come across as repetitive. Added to this is the unsatisfactory 'Inconceivable Odds' closing the album out; whilst an acoustic ballad is a welcome change of direction, its place at the finale of the album is deeply misplaced. Breaking up the endless snare/hi-hat disco rhythms of the album's mid section would have been ideal; tacked on as an afterthought is not.
As with all reunions then, I am filled with a confusing mix of emotions. Yes, this is The Music who I fell in love with way back when; when to me great music previously consisted of little more than heavy metal and guys with red caps on backwards rapping and fitting as many 'fucks' in a song as their record label would allow. At their best on this album they are at their absolute best yet. 'Fire' is a three minute electric shock to the senses; 'The Spike' drives in and forces your heartstrings to dance just as much as it does your feet. Yet at times this is an album a little short on ideas; having a great sound is one thing, developing it and evolving it is another matter. The heart wants to praise this to high heaven, but the head says 'not quite there yet'. Let's make one thing clear though: given time The Music could and should finally realise the potential that's been fermenting inside them for years. This may be just a stepping stone, but as first ones go, it's a mightily pleasing one.