The latest addition to the Isolar Records rosters, Children of the Pope certainly know how to make a striking entrance, showing up with a new single which is a very strong calling card: immediately recognisable, eminently listenable, and brimming with promise. The band has been, for a while now, a well-known presence in the London grassroots and DIY music scene, where they stood out for their high-energy live shows – attending one has always been a guarantee that something memorable was going to happen – and now they have returned with a brand new single and, it would seem, a brand new voice as well. Their fingerprints are still there, of course, as recognisable and distinctive as ever, but the general impression is that there is something more focussed, more fine-tuned, to it, a clinical precision that brings some order to the chaos without losing any of its intensity. The familiar kick of it preserved, there is still a broader breathing space for a newfound kind of sound to emerge, founded on some very intriguing ideas.
Upon first listen, the word that pushes to the forefront when trying to describe Junkie Girlfriend is ‘retro’, in the best possible way. There is no cheap nostalgia to be found here, but a very deliberate and rather clever operation which retrieves some fairly specific sounds from the goldmine that was British rock in the late 60s and early 70s and puts them to the service of something new that is not content with calling back to some glorious rock past, but determined to try and build something equally impressive in the present. There has been, recently, some kind of trend rippling through the grassroots scene, especially in London, of doing this, an affectionate recovery and, in a sense, reappropriation of those bold, snappy retro rock sounds by artists too young to have lived them the first time around who now try to unlock them from a completely different perspective, and this is one of the most accomplished examples I have heard of it. It has something of the later Beatles or the early Stones, an affinity – in the way the guitars work, most of all – with the Animals, even perhaps an inkling of Alice Cooper. The themes, the lyrics, the airiness of the vocals, it all comes together to build the perfect impression of a song from the 70s that could only have been written in 2022.
It is not, of course, just a clever experiment. It is also catchy, the kind of song you want to find playing on the radio when you tune in before embarking on a road trip. It has one of the most effective opening hooks I have heard in a long time, the kind that grabs you and pulls you into the song immediately, a lively burst of drums and tambourine paving the way for a crispy, punchy guitar riff, an almost perfect balance of polished and direct which is both a backbone to the song and a statement of intention for the type of voice it is trying to find. When the vocals kick in, somehow there is a suggestion of the Ronettes’ Be My Baby hovering over them – unlikely as it might sound, it is there and it works perfectly. It is a song that invites a singalong (a slightly tipsy one, perhaps), guided by the layers of bluesy guitars which hold it all together. It is all built on a very simple tempo, but it has a deceptive complexity both in the amount of references it flirts with and in the little details of interplay between the main riff line and the rhythm section.
Perhaps this is the kind of music that overrides the concept of nostalgia altogether and, in its drawing from a sound we instinctively connect with the past, manages to generate something timeless. It is, also, music for a crowded room and for a sweaty audience to sing to ever so slightly off tune. After the all-too-long drought of live shows of the last couple years, that might be the most welcome thing about it.
Check it out, here
The track is available here
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