In the spirit of triumphant venerable band revivals, York’s 1990’s Brit Pop kings Shed Seven release their first studio album for 16 years on 10 November 2017, followed by a nationwide tour (”Shedcember”) through to Christmas that kicks off at York’s own venerable venue, Fibbers. Having recently signed to BMG, ‘Instant Pleasures’ is produced by Killing Joke’s bassist Youth.
Shed Seven isn’t the first band or solo artist to tackle the social media and all-things-tech obsessed 21st century and the era of instantaneous gratification (anyone for ‘Everything Now’?) and they probably won’t be the last. But any band that does so runs the risk of accusations of hypocrisy. After all, Shed Seven has 60,000 followers on Facebook, 28,000 on Twitter and so on. So how does Instant Pleasures stack up against the competition especially in view of the fact that the title is also a play on words – the band does indeed expect listeners to be “instantly pleasured” by “12 pretty damn cool songs”?
‘Room in My House’, the first single, is exactly what fans would hope for, a throw-back to the early days of the band, a pounding rock song that verges on anthem status straight off with lots of “oh, oh, oh, yeah ,yeah yeahs; ” fuzzy guitar riffs; and Rick Witter’s uncompromising vocals: “Wherever I go, you stop and you stare; but I’m not out tonight, I’m washing my hair; if it’s a spirit you love I can feel the connection, I look in your eyes but I see no reflection”.
‘Nothing to Live Down’ picks up where it left off, with guitar, bass, keyboards and drums combining to produce a satisfying melody to Witter’s repeated refrain of “A change will do you good” in a song that is highly reminiscent at times (as indeed are several other songs) of the late, lamented Rilo Kiley with Witter as Jenny Lewis and Paul Banks as Blake Sennett.
‘It’s Not Easy’ is a slower but powerful number in which Witter shames the entire pantheon of rappers by managing to rhyme spunk, drunk and funk in one line and then they throw in a gospel choir for good measure. ‘Said I’m Sorry’ in contrast has a more poppy and 1960’s feel to it, even sampling a Manfred Mann riff towards the end.
And that poppy 60’s trend continues with ‘Victoria,’ which could be an ode to a person or to a railway and underground station in the same way as Waterloo Sunset and which, just like The Kinks’ 1967 song, is the most melodious of the tracks to date. “I’d buy a country and name it after you” gushes Rob Witter before Paul Banks slides off into a pleasing little guitar solo and the track ends with the sound of a tube train slinking off down a tunnel.
‘Better Days’ meanwhile is a slower and more ponderous ballad though one that is not lacking in another memorable melody line and with a sumptuous guitar break. What spoils it just a little is the final line, “…that’s where I’ll stay; come and find me today”, which is delivered almost archly as if an Oasis send-up.
‘Enemies & Friends’ ups the tempo considerably after kicking off with a few brief and promising seconds of electronic experimentation out of which unfortunately nothing significant emerges. Another anthem, this one is underpinned by a driving bass and drum combination that’s guaranteed to get you dancing. ‘Star Crossed Lovers’ is more of the same, only more routine, but enlivened by Banks’ jangly guitar.
The longest track, ‘Hang on to Yourself’ (5:17) is slower and more reflective and might be testament to the staying power required of new bands (“Hang on to yourself, hold on to any hope you might have”.) It seems to be over then launches into 90 seconds of guitar, brass and synth-backed celebration before the vocals return with the simple message “I believe”.
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‘Butterfly on a Wheel’ has an Americana feel early on before it extends into a piece of nigh-on classic pop, which is pretty much what ‘People will Talk’ is too, though the latter is somewhat blander and might be one of the weaker song on the album but for some inspired guitar work.
The 12th and final track (you get your money’s worth out of Shed Seven) is ‘Invincible.’ It could, again, be a statement about their status at this juncture. The convoluted lyrics, “Swimming could be good for you, mostly when you think you’re drowning…You’re a judge and jury and executioner all at once/but I still feel alive/we’re not invincible/ but you say we can pretend/ we’re not unstoppable/but that we’re facing a dead end/even if we crash and burn in the end” could be interpreted as a frank appraisal of the potential perils of a re-launch of a band in its mid-40s and of their determination to see it through, come what may.
But Shed Seven has little to fear. There is plenty of variety in the tracks on Instant Pleasures; well crafted and tuneful songs with the benefit of 16 years of collected experiences to recount that will please those who retain a hankering for the 1990s. There are no poor tracks and only a couple that fail to rise above ‘average’ and, to be honest, the ‘era of instant gratification’ thing isn’t overtly expressed either.
While Britpop might have gone the way of its most famous supporter, Tony Blair, the only danger Shed Seven in is of attracting a new legion of fans with this belated effort.
‘INSTANT PLEASURES’ IS RELEASED NOVEMBER 10th ON BMG