Believe it or not, this is the early Rough Trade hopefuls’ twelfth studio album in total, and the first for German label Tapete Records. The band, consisting of key trio ‘Bid’, Lester Square (not their real names, I’m sure you’ll be astonished to learn) and Andy Warren, have quietly gone about their business for the past 37 years, occasionally stumbling into a modicum of commercial success (they were huge in Japan and ‘He’s Frank’ was covered by Norman Cook under the guise of The BPA and used on the television series ‘Heroes’).
Their return should be met with a cavalcade of fanfares. It’s a consistent triumph throughout (well, apart from the wretched, tuneless dirge that is ‘In A Little Village’ towards the end, which spoils the party somewhat, like a sulky teenager whose pants are in a permanent wedgie, hellbent on spoiling proceedings for everyone else) and ought to at least make the “Best Comeback” nominations on everyone’s end of year lists. Then again, given that they only released their last album in 2013, I guess their inclusion there is null and void.
‘Spaces Everywhere’ includes some of the band’s finest moments in their history. The casting couch allure of ‘When I Get To Hollywood’, for instance, is a delightful Kinksian frolic in the vain of ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’ and contains one of the greatest lyrics you’ll hear this year – “Showed him to your mother, and she never did recover from the pain, now her budgie mutters ‘blimey’ now and then”. It’s a humour as English as Carry On films, sure, but The Monochrome Set‘s wordplay is swaddled in this kind of British retro-charm and they’re all the better for it.
‘The Avenue’, too, is a splendid tune, sounding rather like an early Morrissey B-side (this is a compliment) and covering similar ground to The Specials‘ classic ‘Ghost Town’, our narrator’s compunction for a revisited town or city all too evident after realising that his favourite old haunts have been confined to the dustbin of despair. “Don’t go down that avenue, it’s not the same place you once knew, it’s gone”, laments Bid, just in case we didn’t get it the first time around.
Elsewhere there is the shimmering pop of ‘Such A Star’, effectively borrowing a riff from ‘Brown Sugar’ and sounding a trifle sarcastic in the chorus, there’s even a ‘panpipes’ number in the form of the slow burning, jittery ‘The Scream’ and there’s the irresistable top hat ‘n’ tails swing of ‘Raincheck’. The latter composition would no doubt have been a mainstay in a Sinatra setlist, should he have heard it.
All that and I still haven’t mentioned the opening salvo of ‘Iceman’ – a riveting romp that seems to focus on the blandness of today’s political parties and their tiresome campaigns (“Excuse me, have you voted yet?” and “Excuse me, are you one of us?”) – and the wonderful ‘Fantasy Creatures’, with its soft military march verses and faster, infectious refrain.
There was a seventeen year gap between the band’s 9th album, ‘Trinity Road’, and their 10th, ‘Platinum Coils’, but their dozenth release now makes it three albums in four years for the prolific trio. You’d think, with that kind of ratio, the quality would suffer somewhat, but not a bit of it. The Monochrome Set are truly a shining jewel in the crown of the nation’s forgotten pretenders, and I, for one, hope they reign supreme for a long time to come.