SOME things change and some stay the same.
Whereas before, with debut album Shouting Quietly, there was a car journey home from nearby Loughborough, Left-Legged Pineapple bag strewn on the floor, I pored over the lyrics typed onto the inside sleeve, studied who played what, did what, wrote what and where; anticipation building, found the songs I already knew and loved and where they were on the record before dashing to my room (via just checking how badly Leicester had done on Teletext – I yearn not for those David Pleat days, readers.) Now though, with new album Bright Hours, I sit down, press a button and it’s there, playing.
The anticipation, though: that’s still with me.
Thing is, there’s been thirty years between the records. Because Shouting Quietly didn’t do as well as it should have done, partly due to the great Rough Trade collapse that saw the death knell of a thousand bands and labels as the distributor went bankrupt, possibly because with their crew cuts and soul boy clothes they never fitted, caught between Madchester and grunge; definitely not because they didn’t have the songs, the words, the feel.
Reconvening for the odd show as a duo for the 30th anniversary of its predecessor, songwriters Ian H and Ewan Butler felt they still had something to say. And, after putting that into practise, they went back to revered producer Stephen Street, who had produced the original and put it out on his Foundation label.
As he says: “When I brought the original Foundation Label to an end in the Nineties, and Bradford disbanded, I often wondered what happened to the guys in the band; particularly Ian and Ewan, who I regarded as the mainstays of the group.
“So, although a huge amount of time had passed, and it was a complete surprise to hear from them last year, it also felt completely ‘right’ to get involved and help bring the idea of a new Bradford album to full fruition.”
Being involved, in this case, has meant not only has Stephen produced the record, but is putting it out again on his Foundation II label, and is a fully fledged member of what is now a trio.
Turns out some things have stayed the same. Ian H’s lyrics are still a thing of Costello-like wonder, a poetic turn of phrase here, (during single “My Wet Face” he sings ‘Sentimental gentleman / Is that what I’ve become / crick in the neck from looking back / at all the things I’ve said and done’) a devastating emotional couplet there, a smattering of funny wordplay and sharp observations all over the album. His vocal, too, still has that soulfulness about it, and still cracks with emotion.
There’s Butler’s melodies too. Never one to waste a second, you only need to listen to the likes of those early B-sides – “Boys will be Boys,” “Dodging Around In Cars”, “Everywhere I Turn”, alongside outtakes from the original album that appeared on its 30th anniversary version – “Headful Of Dreadful” and the like.
Here, they’re like little rough diamonds, polished up on the back of his jeans, so they appear scuffed but still glittering. At moments, in particular ‘My Wet Face’ and ’I Make A Fist” they could almost be immediate follow-ups to Shouting Quietly – full of the brilliance that caught Morrissey’s ear, the latter the album’s Skin Storm – and an equal to it.
But there’s changes too. The confidence was always there, but now it bursts out of the record. There’s an elegance and ambition about the synth-soaked “Bright Hours”, the fantastic “Like Water” has a little extra muscle, and would they have ever had the gall to release something like the dubby “Present Day Array”? I doubt it.
Elsewhere there’s moments of country, murder ballads, power pop, even a dash of folk here and there; all delivered with a shot of timeless melody and a dash of thought-provoking words, all pushed by a belief and prodded by Street’s brilliant production.
It’s difficult to pick highlights because, perhaps even more so than Shouting Quietly, it’s an album on which there are so few weaknesses. Even the ones that don’t immediately hit you in the face (“Down Faced Doll” for one), creep up on you over time.
So, as I’ve said: some things change and some stay the same. Bradford have produced an album that’s is more than an equal to their debut, 31 years in the making; a thrilling slice of modern indie rock. This time though, we must not, we cannot ignore it.
Bradford’s Bright Hours will be released digitally and on CD and coloured vinyl this Friday, February 19th; you can order yours now from Piccadilly, Rough Trade, direct from the band, or from your local record emporium.