I was going to start this review by pointing out that I am a fan of The Leisure Society, and wax lyrical about how great they are live, before apologetically admitting that ‘The Fine Art Of Hanging On’ is somewhat disappointing to me, only occasionally scaling the heady heights of 2011’s high watermark, ‘Into The Murky Water’.
Then I was going to question whether sentiment had got the better of Nick Hemming to the detriment of his compositional skills. The Leisure Society’s fourth long player is, after all, quite a downbeat affair, partly due to a friend of the frontman battling cancer during its recording – “I reached out by sending him the rough demos of this album. By giving him this access to the work in progress and by him giving feedback, we formed a close bond. Sadly he lost his battle, but his input and presence is there in the album”.
At which point I was going to wonder out loud whether Hemming had placed a little too much importance – tragic though the circumstances and an honourable thing to do – upon the thoughts of his terminally ill acquaintance.
I’m not going to say those things anymore.
Truth is, I’m overwhelmingly glad that I took the time to listen to ‘The Fine Art Of Hanging On’ several times over in my car before sitting down to form what I felt would be a reasonable critique. This is a slow burner, there’s no doubt about that, but like all great relationships, it improves with age, and you notice new things all the time.
The title track, which kicks off the album, for example, starts with an intricate ‘Paranoid Android’ type arrangement and builds to the glorious uplift of the joyous refrain ‘and we put it all together’, complete with effective whip cracks reminiscent of those on Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich‘s 1968 chart topper ‘The Legend Of Xanadu’.
It’s impossible not to think of Omar‘s quarter-of-a-century old hit ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ when listening to the almost identically titled track that follows, given that its melody is also almost identical, but never does this grate. It’s more like a respectful homage to the classic soul single than anything else.
‘Tall Black Cabins’ is a woozy, seafaring waltz with a downtrodden vocal (“lend me an anchor to sink this planet“) that bears a striking resemblance to John Bramwell. The title is a reference to structures the singer witnessed in Hastings, used by local fishermen for drying their nets. It’s a poignant tune and quite moving, focusing on these workmen’s passion to keep alive a slowly dying industry. Indeed, to use Hemming’s own words, the running theme throughout is one of “clinging to something – be that a relationship, a career, or life itself”.
Here and there, The Leisure float dangerously close to sounding like The Feeling (‘Outside In’), but thankfully manage to stay just the right side of twee for this not to matter.
The glam tramp of ‘I’m A Setting Sun’ is a standout – a real melt-in-your-mouth moment before ‘You Are What You Take’, all mood horns and an intro not dissimilar to Lennon and McCartney‘s ‘Michelle‘, brings proceedings down a notch to a sleepy, humid night where for the most part, the album remains thereafter.
The slower numbers are harder to embrace on your first couple of listens but my, how they become diamonds in the rough after a few more plays. It’s a nocturnal animal of an album and it waits patiently, like all the best cunning predators, to trap its prey with no hope of escape. Impressive stuff.