It’s strange how the most cheerful of music can often mask the darkest of sentiments. This sort of thing is nothing new, but the long-awaited debut album from Nottingham’s Dog Is Dead [Twitter/Facebook] plumbs some dark depths, ones that perhaps weren’t as readily apparent before now. This contrast is so well done that it takes the listener a moment to stop and think about a song’s lyrics before they realise what’s actually being expressed. They come across as both the happiest and most tormented band I’ve encountered in quite a while, and it’s this yin/yang aspect to their music that makes it so compelling, along with some other things, like how it’s, well, brilliant.
The self-professed ‘big pop’ band from Nottingham have taken a while to get here, but it’s been a fascinating journey, all the same. Off the back of a number of well-received EPs, and plenty of singles, much of this album will already be familiar to fans who have known them for a while, but even they will be impressed by new versions of old favourites. Glockenspiel Song remains their anthem, and rightly so. It’s a song on which bassist Lawrence ‘Trev’ Cole’s saxophone skills feature, and anyone who’s had a passing interest in this kind of music over the past two years will be quite familiar with its hook. The song itself is joyful, but it’s also the emotional centrepiece of the album: ‘We are a mess, we are failures and we love it’.
It is with that song that the album reaches its peak, having begun in downbeat fashion with Get Low, a song that deals with the difficult topic of depression, before being followed by two more new songs, Do the Right Thing and Teenage Daughter, both of which indicate how incredibly filled-out the band’s sound has become. Anyone who has seen them live will be well aware of that, but it’s difficult to make the transition from stage to studio without losing something in the process. They’ve done that, and the fact that the album’s almost half-over before the first appearance of an older song shows that they have a whole lot of self-belief. Two Devils is among the darkest songs on the album, its lyrics detailing hospital visits and mental trauma (‘there’s always something crawling between my feet and in my head’), as well as delivering a stark warning to the song’s protagonists: ‘If we don’t stop now, we’ll be dead by summer’.
There are moments of optimism, of course – Dog Is Dead wouldn’t be who they are without that balance. Heal It shows defiance in the face of difficulty (‘If it can’t break, then we can’t heal it’), while the chorus of Hands Down is touching: ‘Darling, I’m telling you, you’re hands down the greatest thing around here’. The band’s big sound becomes colossal on the Maccabees-esque penultimate track River Jordan, which benefits greatly from its new context and helps the band to go out with a bang. Of course, we’re not done yet, and Any Movement brings things to a close in an unexpectedly grandiose fashion. When the band sing that ‘satisfaction is an illusion’, it’s important to remember that they’ve always tried to push themselves, and they probably already have their eye on what comes next. After All Our Favourite Stories finally arrives next week, there’ll be no doubting their talent. They say themselves that ‘there’s no point playing god when it’s a story in the making’, but they can certainly afford to do so, because they’ve delivered one of the most confident – and hard-hitting – debut albums of the year.
[PRE-ORDER] Dog is Dead – All Our Favourite Stories [Amazon (Standard/Deluxe CD) / iTunes]