Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Bluetones - A New Athens (CIA)

Ah, the mid-Nineties. Home to some shit hair, shit clothes and shit teachers. But one thing the era did nail was music, with the aural majesty of Britpop in full bloom. And while the overall movement has long since expired, a few bastions of the genre remain, and, as The Bluetones testify, are every bit as tremendous in 2010 as they were in 1995.

A New Athens sees the band return for their sixth studio album, and it’s a welcome homecoming indeed. After Mark Morriss's 2008 solo album, itself a humble masterpiece, the stripped-back simplicity has made way for a busier, more thought-out arrangement with noticeably more depth. Not that Memory Muscle was in any way a throwaway or one-dimensional album, but A New Athens is very much a group effort.

On the whole, A New Athens carries the same buoyancy as the Bluetones of old, whilst bearing a sense of maturity without any feelings of stuffiness. That's not to say they've created an album of sunkissed Slight-Return-a-likes; in fact, the harder riffs of the title track document a more edgy Bluetones than we're used to, and they sound all the better for it.

Elsewhere, the shuffling, lilting country of demi-ballad Golden Soul and the twisted, looping electronica of opening track The Notes Between The Notes Between The Notes further demonstrate the steps outside of the box that makes A New Athens a mightily impressive return.

And for the occasional subtle change in direction, there’s little surprising about A New Athens. But that’s no bad thing, and it certainly doesn’t make for anything resembling tedium. It’s solid, it’s assured, there are hooks a-plenty and charm in abundance – in short, it’s every inch a Bluetones record.

It marks a band who’ve maintained their ideals, honed their talents and developed nicely, without clinging doggedly onto the ghosts of the Melody Maker or TFI Friday stage, as one might expect. And while their moment in the glare of the spotlight may have passed, there’s no trace of defeat or acquiescence, merely a contented and gifted demonstration that brilliance is still brilliance, however big the audience.
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