Voxtrot - Firecracker
I’m well aware that this is the sort of thing that journalists love saying when they want to sound like they’re at the cutting edge of things, but I really did like Voxtrot before they were cool. Well, to me, they’ve always been cool; Sinatra was cool before he sold any records, Bogart was cool even back when he was stuck playing heavies in B-movies, and the same applies to Ramesh Srivastava and his Texan cohorts. There are some people, I know, who think Voxtrot are decidedly uncool: too twee, too self-consciously literate, not enough ‘edge.’ But then again, my dad thinks that Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now is the worst song ever written, and that Van Morrison can’t sing. Why do I furnish you with these little gems of wisdom from my old man? Well, my point is this: even clever people can be very, very wrong, and people who don’t like Voxtrot, in this writer’s humble opinion, fall into that category.
The trouble with Firecracker, however, is that I can’t see it doing much to change the doubters’ minds. Which is a terrible shame, as it’s not as if their recent eponymous debut LP is short of potential singles. Blood Red Blood, which preceded the album, was a strong choice. It had typically marvellous Ramesh lyrics – for the unacquainted, he has Paul Smith levels of verbal dexterity, a delightful knack for shoehorning convoluted spiralling loops of syllables into his graceful melodies, and has begun to acquire a Morrissey-esque talent for getting away with wonderfully silly lines; the opening line ‘I wanna I wanna I wanna drown you in a pool of blood’ from the album’s Brother In Conflict strikes me as a perfect example. Mercifully, however, Srivastava hasn’t any of the affectation Maximo Park frontman, nor that of the Pope of Mope.
Not only was Blood Red Blood classic ‘Trot from a lyrical point of view, but musically it had a lot going for it; it embodied the slightly bolder, more muscular style that the band have adopted, setting the tone nicely for the new album. A chorus more epic and expansive than anything heard on earlier releases, and a horn section adding delicate and eloquent punctuation to the verses, before spilling over into a glorious Guillemots-esque cacophony elsewhere in the song, were married to chord progressions and melodies that were archetypal Voxtrot. In short, there was enough to challenge the doubters’ prejudices, whilst all the things that had made me and thousands of others fall in love with the band back in the days of The Start of Something still remained. Furthermore, the B-Side, New Love was Voxtrot-by-numbers, but it was such a fine example thereof, with lines like ‘I can tell that you’re in love with her/I can tell by the way you never touch her or look at her,’ that, as a listener, you’d have been a hard-hearted bastard to care.
But what of Firecracker? Well, it’s not bad at all. It’s… Well, it’s good. But, frankly, I’d had it earmarked as probably the weakest track on the album. On an album as marvellous as Voxtrot’s debut, that’s not much of a criticism; one song has to draw the short straw, but it simply seems a bizarrely poor choice for a single. So who chose it? It’s perhaps the most obvious showcase, even more so than Blood Red Blood, of the band’s new, harder-edged sound, and therefore maybe either band, record label, or both, felt it might bring some new faces into the fold. If that’s the logic, then it would be good business if only Firecracker were a good enough song. Sadly, however, it simply isn’t. On the album, it plays fine without being outstanding, but singles have to stand out; that’s why they’re chosen to be released in a format where they must stand largely unsupported, fighting to be heard and bought on their own merits. It’s a shame, because it means that if the single release of Firecracker is indeed meant to function as a calling-card for new-model, more dynamic Voxtrot, pulling in fresh punters, then it can’t hope to succeed in its mission and, in fact, will only be bought by longtime serious fans who already know the song, own the album, and only want the single for the sake of B-sides and the completeness of their collection.
As for the aforementioned B-Sides, there’s nothing to match New Love here. If that song was Voxtrot’s autopilot performing mid-air stunts with aplomb and grace, then Honey Bee is the autopilot merely landing the plane safely, though there remain, as we would expect from Ramesh, some beautiful lines. The same is true of Loan Shark; it’s not the best song Voxtrot have ever released. It’s not even the best B-Side Voxtrot have ever released, but when Srivastava tenderly sings ‘we drift like sound waves,’ you know you’d still rather drift with him than be listening to the music that a great many other bands make when functioning at their very best.
I suppose that sums up Firecracker as a single. Given the quality of the album it’s lifted from, I think it’s a poor release, but even an ‘poor’ Voxtrot song is streets ahead, musically, lyrically, intellectually, emotionally, of anything by most of the current barrel-scraping crop of ‘indie’ being made, and topping the charts, on this side of the pond. It’s simply a slight shame that, when compared to other tracks on the album, particularly Every Day, the aforementioned Brother in Conflict and Ghost, one can’t help but feel frustrated by its selection as the second single. To make a comparison that Ramesh, Mitch, Jared, Jason and Matt might appreciate, better hacks than I derided Belle and Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant not because it was a poor album – it wasn’t – but simply for not being on the level of If You’re Feeling Sinister or The Boy With the Arab Strap. With this in mind, it would be churlish to give Firecracker a low score. It’s a good song. It’s just not a great single. Doubtless my dad would disagree.