Over the past few years I’ve been introduced to a lot of bands; I’ve witnessed the release of new singles, the creation of new music videos, and travelled hundreds of miles to see talented musicians play some incredible live sets. In all that time, only a few bands have stuck with me, and The Crookes are on the top of that list.
Soapbox is the third album from these Sheffield boys, continuing their endeavours to write music they care about. This is a band who know what they want, and won’t compromise to get it. After all, working towards something is always worth more than getting it handed to you on a plate.
I’ve been reluctant to write a review of this album. I’ve known the band for a while now, from the beginnings of their Hold Fast tour to their last show celebrating that particular album 12 months later. In that time I’ve seen them play modest shows in Cardiff, headline shows in London and coveted sets on the main stage at Tramlines 2013. These boys have played more shows than any other band I know, so it’s a wonder they ever found the time to sit down and write this third album at all.
The best songs are the ones that make you think; the ones that combine melody and words to expose you to worlds you may be sheltered from, to rip your eyes open and let you see the harsh reality of someone else’s life. And that’s what music is about, surely? When written well, a song can create empathy and insight into worlds you might not experience, chipping away the ignorance one verse at a time.
Soapbox opens abruptly with ‘Play Dumb’, showcasing the band’s talents for loud, unforgiving music that you’ll play on repeat for days. The boys grab your attention with their fierce conviction and blunt attitude, pulling into focus the problems they see in the music industry today.
‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’ is more of a confession; a plea to be recognised as a flawed human being instead of the saviour someone needs. “You know I can be someone to rely on; you can count on me to fuck it up” merely demonstrates how the protagonist is feeling – he’s given up on his good nature and he wants you to the same. Sometimes you just need to save yourself.
Before you even realise, the album has moved swiftly on to ‘Echolalia’ with dreamy vocals and measured refrain. The strong guitar chords carry the song on, through the haunting pleas – “Oh, they don’t even know me” – that stand out towards the end of the track.
‘Before the Night Falls’ instantly became a favourite of mine, with well-written verses and uplifting attitude describing the kinds of possibilities a night can hold. The noisy approach reminds me of those nights, the ones where nothing is planned yet everything is on offer, but that feeling is temporary and you’ve got to take your chance before the dawn arrives. This notion runs through the entire song, right until the final verse, (“We’re out of luck, time won’t slow…”), with its frantic pace and energetic tone that remind me of The Crookes’ Hold Fast days.
‘Holy Innocents’ is the most delicate song on this record, dividing the album into two equally chaotic halves. The fragmented piano notes are held together by George Waite’s gentle voice as he describes a sorrowful affair of a lost love, longing for something that may not even exist.
‘Outsiders’ encompasses the band’s attitude in a more boisterous tone, describing their thoughts on being the “Outsiders” of the music industry. “As a band that seems to suit us…never invited inside, but never wanting to be”, explains lyricist Daniel Hopewell, who writes these ideas into the track. It’s something that everyone can relate to; that feeling of being excluded from the rest and finding freedom in that exclusion.
The lyrics in ‘When You’re Fragile’ have already caused controversy in my household – my family hate them. Despite being common, dysfunctional relationships are difficult to talk about in any form, and it’s frighteningly easy to sweep problems aside and leave them unacknowledged. Many people don’t like to be confronted with the dark ideas of romance that ‘When You’re Fragile’ offers, so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable when the narrator admits his interest is only centred in times of woe. In an almost confessional manner, this song highlights the nature of these destructive relationships with brutal honesty, demonstrating just how damaging they can be.
‘Marcy’ is another bold song, demonstrating the band’s ability to write a song that is equally catchy and brilliant. This is, perhaps, the song I want to hear performed live, as George’s screams of “Marcy, you’ve got me strung out now” can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I can see it quickly becoming a crowd favourite.
Offering another change of pace, ‘Howl’ slows us down with its reassuring melodies and calming atmosphere. “All I wanna do is sit and watch the world go by, count the minds destroyed by wasted time” goes back to that feeling of an outsider, reflecting on the lives of others as disconnected from his own. This is short-lived, as the album ends on a high, with ‘Soapbox’ charging up the guitars for one final bow.
The meaning behind Soapbox is clear. As Daniel Hopewell explains, “I can empathise more with the madman standing on his soapbox, slowly gaining an audience by speaking with passion and honesty.” The Crookes have always been a passionate band, choosing to earn their success instead of just hoping, and it’s this attitude that can be heard behind every note of their latest album.
If you buy one album this year, make it Soapbox. The Crookes demand it.
Soapbox will be released on Monday 14th April 2014, on 12” vinyl, CD and mp3 download.
See The Crookes on their UK/Europe tour during April/May 2014 – click here for details.