The Big Pink - Manchester Academy 3
Manchester loves The Big Pink. There’s what sounds like the four horsemen of the apocalypse next door in Academy 2 so Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze bring their live take on debut ‘A Brief History of Love’ to the tighter confines of Academy 3. It is preposterously rammed and the buzz about 4AD’s latest title hopes is palpable. Those of us who once fell for every arty-farty noisenik Ivo Watts-Russell threw his cash at back in the label’s late 80s/early 90s heyday still keep an eye on the enterprise but it’s been a while since an animal with blood on its lips made its nest in this most mercurial of labels. Like I say, Manchester demonstrates ample love for The Big Pink but my restraint is going nowhere and it’s borne of hopes dashed. By the time the album appeared last month, hints that the duo might have re-awoken the valiant efforts of the freaks and geeks who eventually fell under the lumpen club foot of Madchester and Brit Pop were revealed to be false. 'A Brief History of Love', by its title alone, has such grand plans, it's almost doomed to disappoint.
In the face of such overwhelming odds – everyone else loved it - you find yourself asking whether you’ve got it wrong but every time I try again I hear beats and effect, songs whose over-reliance on crescendo and clout do little to disguise the lack of just one rock solid hook or a line that makes me shiver. It’s an album that seems borne of pedestrian labours; each time the second chorus dissolves and suggests a walk into the woods, a minor chord change to unsettle your senses, a well placed clatter of overdrive to quicken the heart … nothing happens. Just more layers of squall and another whip crack to the driving rhythm.
So you find yourself traipsing off to check out what happens when the pair assemble a full live band and, hopefully, provide an alternate take. In this very venue in the past year I’ve had my head sweetly taken off by just guitar and drums (Blood Red Shoes) and I’ve swooned to a three piece that revisits the halcyon daze of shoe gaze with real invention and élan (The Joy Formidable) - both minus hype and expectation. But even with five people up onstage tonight and yes, I know, everyone walked out saying it was amazing and the best thing they’ve seen all f***ing term, all I got was Loud with an aftertaste of Clamour. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. ‘Too Young to Love’, ‘Velvet’, the ridiculously overrated ‘Dominos’ , which leads you into its chorus with all sorts of jaunty promises and then shuts the door in your face. These are songs from the microwave, hot in parts, cold on their extremities. Drifting off I find myself wondering whether another pint will help or not and remembering what a good live band Slowdive were. I mean, how ridiculous is that ? (The Slowdive bit.)
Maybe this is what happens when you take your name from musical history. The streets are littered with artists who signed their name across the hearts of those who inspired them to form a f***ing band. Some sense of humility, please, people. For every Ladytron, every Sisters of Mercy, bands who carried off their breathtaking chutzpah with respect and achievement, there are a raft of Shakespeare’s Sisters and Deacon Blues. What ultimately jars is that a band whose song writing savvy is capable at best, and whose sonic drive strikes me as a pale re-imagining of its record label’s shiny history, is being hailed as essential and it sticks in the craw. 4AD may never uncover another Throwing Muses, another Pixies but, by christ, I would have thought that by the same token they weren’t exactly scouring the land for the next Ultra Vivid Scene or Wolfgang Press. But, contrary to what those who should know better would have you believe, the evidence is that’s exactly what they’ve done.