The Like - Release Me
The cat regards me with undisguised derision. "MORE girly guitar pop?" Here we go again. "Teenagersintokyo this, Lucky Soul that ... I hope that wasn't the Best Coast album I heard you playing in the car earlier?" Bugger. Rumbled. I shuffle nervously and make with the Go Cat. He gets like this. It'll be the heat. He waits for an answer. I splutter my defence, something about this being different, a miraculous, shiny re-invention borne out of real appreciation for its genre stylings and far removed from shallow retro irony. Whiskers bristle and he pulls himself to his feet and heads for the door. "Oh purr-lease ..." he mutters. What does he know anyway? He's only a cat.
And The Like are only a band. Yeah, right. Get outta here. If you hunger for the kind of melody-infused sweet meats this revitalised group are serving up you should pounce on this one like a cat on a kipper. Having introduced themselves with 2006's Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?, The Like seemed to garner more column inches for their family heritage than their music. The former you can investigate yourselves; the latter is what I'm making our business this time around. That debut was hardly revolutionary but boy did it make merry with some beautifully executed dream pop, the kind you'd have heard from the likes of Madder Rose and Juliana Hatfield in the early 90s. And while the band disappeared from view, that record's glow never faded. Look up its fizz-bomb highlight 'What I Say and What I Mean' on Youtube and see what you missed.
And what do you do four years on when it seems that what you started out doing is coming very much back in fashion? Lob it in the bin and undertake a startling about turn? Yeah. Why not? Why not, in actual fact, draft in a couple of new members and remake and remodel as a 60s-influenced pop boutique combo? Oh, and get that nice Mark Ronson chap in to twiddle the knobs while you're at it. Bang! The cover, all Biba graphics, the girls decked out in Sandie Shaw mini-dresses and barefoot, actually disproves the old adage. You can, pretty accurately and fairly, judge this one by its cover.
The Like, as frisky and feline as anyone has any right to be, have made one of the pop records of the year. It's such a blast and, despite (or because of?) its influences, built to last. You'll be hooked on this for, oh, ever. Fashionistas will dig it for its Carnaby Street stylings, the Ronson direction and the undoubted phwoarr factor. (Band leader Elizabeth 'Z' Berg, dark tresses now replaced by blonde mini bob, and her lithesome cohorts are so easy on the eye that ... oh dear, you know how it is when sentences just run out on you, words that much out of reach ..?) Listen. They got legs, they got guitars. They know how to use both.
On 'Catch Me If You Can' (a hint of early Blondie) Z dances all over a failed affair: "We started on fire and now we're just cinders." 'I Can See it in Your Eyes' follows the theme: "This fire's been out for some time ..." In The Like's world, boys are boys and rarely men. "Things are rough enough, won't you toughen up?" goes the splendid 'Fair Game'. Throughout, the addition of keyboards adds daring texture to the template. The beat never drops for a moment. (No ballads? Excellent!) All in all, fab. It crackles with the momentum of a singles collection: clean, sleek, fleet of (bare)foot. No doubt due to influence at the mixing desk, 'Release Me' demands that you dance to it. Or drink cocktails. More satisfying than its sugary veneer might at first suggest, musicianship, lyrical acumen and care shown in assembly make this album nigh on essential.
The cats's back. Hungry, no doubt. Eyes me like he's granting me audience. "Let me guess," he purrs. "You love it. Is it 'awesome'?" That mocking tone again. I hold his stare. Don't back down, Gary. Don't back down this time. His gaze falters for just a second and I pounce. I tell him I love it, that it floors me with its savvy and its groove, reminds me I'm alive. I tell him I think it's purr-fect. His eyes narrow and he turns away, pads to his bowl like all of a sudden he's forgotten I'm there. I realise I've won for once. This time.