The never-ending arguments about the decline or even death of originality in music are becoming increasingly irrelevant, in my eyes. What is most important is not what a band do, but instead, how they do it, and above all, what they do with it. There are many bands around that Various Cruelties could be lumped in with, and in the wrong hands, their passionate, shamelessly poppy songs would be stripped of all life and enthusiasm, but by deciding to go down the self-titled route for their debut, they’ve made it more like a declaration than an invitation: this is who we are and what we do.
It can’t just be me who thinks Liam O’Donnell sounds like a dead-ringer for Alex Turner at times, but if you’re going to mistake the band for Arctic Monkeys soundalikes, then you should think again. The band’s music is rooted in the pure pop of Motown, given a modern twist and some slick production, the latter of which crucially doesn’t mask any aspect of the songs. This has been done before, but for some reason which I can’t quite place my finger on, it’s all quite refreshing. In the words of the band themselves (on the irresistible Great Unknown), ‘Everything feels too familiar, but some things you just never seem to know’.
There are also some ska-influenced songs present on the 11-track collection, most notably the rather excellent Cold as You, which immediately establishes itself as an album highlight, picking up the pace after a brace of slower songs have revealed the band to be full of ideas. If It Wasn’t For You is an anthem in the making, and Magnetic Field is a sleeper hit waiting to happen. These are big songs with big ambitions, and indeed, the band’s profile has increased noticeably up until now. I’m not going to say that you should ‘believe the hype’ or something equally hyperbolic, but this album delivers, there’s no question about that.
It’s pointless to argue with hooks as good as those that adorn songs like Neon Truth (the one place on the album where those Arctic Monkeys comparisons are actually valid, though it’s very much the Suck It and See-era Arctics that the song is reminiscent of) and Capsize, the latter of which is currently my favourite song on the album, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been flip-flopping between that and various other songs on the record. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d probably have reconsidered. I guess that is the mark of an accomplished debut album – when all is said and done, and the buzz has settled down (there’s no denying that they’re riding the crest of a wave right now), Various Cruelties will still be regarded as a promising debut, an album that plays to the band’s considerable strengths while being unable to help hinting at there being plenty more where this came from. Here’s hoping.
Great Unknown video:
The album’s streaming over at DIY, and is out now via Mercury Records.