Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Felt Tips - Symbolic Violence.

Once again we are joined by our favourite guest contributor "Interplanet Janet" who will guide you towards a love affair with Scotlands "The Felt Tips" and their soon to be released album, "Symbolic Violence."

The Felt Tips have a new album out called Symbolic Violence. Having really enjoyed their first album Living and Growing, I wondered if the second album would be similar or depart into new musical territory. The steady, melodic nature of their songs haven’t changed much, which is a good thing because if it ain’t broke, you know. This is down to guitarist Miguel Navarro’s magic touch, which continues to lift the songs up to pop heaven. Anyone who is a fan of a particularly melodic blend of 80’s pop and social realism, along the lines of The Smiths, Squeeze and The Housemartins will find The Felts Tips to be in the same vein, but refreshingly now. This also means you might even be lucky enough to catch them play live.

In a world saturated with indie bands, The Felt Tips hold their own because they have a combination of strengths which make them stand out. On top of Navarro’s melodic contribution, we have the talents of Scottish singer-songwriter, Andrew Paterson (Morrissey to Navarro’s Marr, although Paterson truly has a style all his own). His laid-bare Scottish accent adds to the delightful mix, but it is in the highly-personal lyrics where we really see his unique fingerprint. As a writer, he doesn’t so much write songs, but scenes. Really awkward ones at that, quite frankly, yet for some reason we do not want to leave.

It’s clear the album retains The Felt Tip’s melodic nature, Scottish accent and delightfully tense social scenarios, however one aspect that stands out as different in this album is in the production. I sense they had the confidence to play around with it and it really works well. Another difference is in the lyrics. They have become more sophisticated, observant and tongue-in-cheek than on Living and Growing. What we still have, though, is an open window to observe a memory or a moment that can be seen as both ordinary and extraordinary. This is reassuring because that’s what gives them depth. A good pop song does not necessarily need depth, but when you find one, you know it’s been lovingly crafted. This is good news for those who like to dance to music, but also like to have a few thoughts provoked by it as well.

If you really want to analyse Symbolic Violence (and who wouldn’t? The name alone practically begs for analysis) then I would suggest not to focus too much on it as a whole, like in a feature film, but rather think of it as series of shorts. In each song, the listener enters the world of a complex and interesting man. Although, however much we are taken in, we are still essentially voyeurs. The realism and awkward nostalgia are interesting because they are from the point of view of someone who seems still quite young. These are not the usual world-weary musings of the middle aged (nor should they be) but they are also too sophisticated to be dismissed as speaking only for the young. It’s a delicate balance of looking back, but also an awareness that so much can change in such a short amount of time.

There are a number of standout tracks on the album. The opening track and the first single, “Iron Lady”, is especially noteworthy for it’s blend of pop bliss and unique subject matter. A scene of psychological tension plays out on New Years Eve and we witness it through the lens of someone with an extremely determined weight-loss resolution. Perhaps she is the Iron Lady of the song’s title, but we never really know. That infamous Kate Moss quote makes up the whole of the chorus—
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. It’s hard to read this as anything other than parody, because as a straight piece it would border on the ridiculous. The lyrics are very clever throughout, for example, I’m counting down to zero might be an aspect of the New Years Eve scene, but it could easily refer to counting down to the unrealistic size zero that dieters sadly often have as their ultimate goal.

Another track,“Lyrics by Lennon”, is one of those simple-yet-complex narratives that I could see James Joyce writing if he were in the business of writing awkward pop songs. Perhaps it’s just as well it’s Paterson doing it, because he is clearly made for it. If you are a huge Beatles fan, try not to judge the subject too harshly in his hatred of the unnamed Lennon and McCartney songs. Besides, regardless of who it is, haven’t we all uttered opinions that, in the end , came back to haunt us?

Although they all have their merits, the final song I want to mention is “Backwards Born”. In terms of personal, it doesn’t get more personal than this. This is a bitter tale of sibling rivalry that makes me want to consult a qualified family therapist for advice on how I am supposed to feel about it, um, but at the same time enjoying its lovely and melodic nature. It can happen (see The Smiths).

Overall, there’s a strong theme of the passage of time in this album. Each song seems to be chronologically going deeper back in time. Looking at the track listing, I notice that the first song, Iron Lady, plays out during the last moments of the last day of the year and the final song, Backwards Born, describes the subject’s first moments in this world. For The Felt Tips themselves, time will tell if they continue to hone their craft well (of course they will), but for now, we can live in the moment with this exceptional second album.

Buy it. Enjoy it. Think of your own awkward past and wear it with pride.

Review by "Interplanet Janet"

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