This Pete Astor article was written by Ian Bailey, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Tim Burden.
Once upon a time, Pete Astor was in a band called The Loft. They weren’t big by any means – few indie bands were back then – but they had a bright sound that appealed to The Smiths fans, sung ambivalently and in a manner that appealed to American Alternative Rock fans, and they were good enough at the right place at the right time. Thus, they were signed by Alan McGee’s fledgling Creation Records and arguably helped pave the way for the later indie movement and modern British rock. Then, in 1985, they broke up.
But while The Loft went the way of many, the band members themselves never dropped off the radar. First Pete Astor and Dave Morgan formed The Weather Prophets. Then Astor embarked on a long solo career whilst moonlighting as Senior Lecturer of Music at the University of Westminster.
‘Spilt Milk’ is the eighth and latest album to come from Astor’s solo career, and you can clearly hear a maturity to his songwriting, which is good. But with maturity comes a recycling of old sounds and ideas, an over-reliance on what’s known to work at the cost of experimentation, and a sense that Astor is resting on his songwriting laurels, which is bad.
This is an album that looks to past glories and replicates them without developing them. It’s not plagiarism, it’s worse; an undeclared and unintentional pastiche of early 60’s rock and pop – a kind of Mad Men in musical form and without the necessary deconstruction. And while these songs are good, that’s all they are. They’re resting on established laurels and tropes without adding anything new to British modern rock music. It is, as sad as it is to admit, Diet-Dad Rock: Oasis without the swagger, Stereophonics without the cool.
And nowhere is this clearer than in the two songs that are used for PR: ‘My Right Hand’ and ‘Mr Music’. ‘My Right Hand’ is a nice, major-key diddy with a good groove that reminds you a little of The Kinks and with singing that brings to mind Iron and Wine, or maybe New Order. The lyrics praise a lover (who is only defined by what they do for the narrator), and they contain numerous references to music luminaries like Marvin Gaye and 20th-century poet Philip Larkin. It’s cool in a hipster kinda way but in no way is it modern. Likewise ‘Mr Music’, the other PR song, is moody and retrospective in the same way that ‘Nowhere Man’ is moody and introspective. It has a nice melody but at the end of the day that’s all it has.
And in the end, ‘Spilt Milk’ is alright. Just alright. Maybe it will appeal to some, those who look fondly back to the days before The Rolling Stones dragged edge into British rock. For everyone else who were expecting something a little more from Pete Astor – who writes books about Richard Hell and the Voidoids and who is still one of the forebearers of modern indie rock – ‘Spilt Milk’ is a disappointing offering of bland pop rock.
‘Spilt Milk’ is out on the 8th of January 2016 via Fortuna POP!