12

Raising the Standards

There were a number of bands who spearheaded the rise of alternative rock into the mainstream a couple of years ago. A collection of strong debut albums were all released in 2004 and bands such as the Zutons spent the next eighteen months touring themselves and their music into the ground, to the point when many of us, and I'm sure they too, were sick of the sound of it.

The current state of British music has been compared to the rise of Brit pop a decade ago, and what did for several of the bands around that time was that their second album didn't live up to the first. The term "the difficult second album" has become common for a reason, as it can be a musician's graveyard. There will be more than a few ears and eyes on the likes of the Zutons when their new material is released, April 17th in the case of 'Tired of Hangin' Around' so is it any good?

Yes, is the short answer, but that doesn't make a review. In fact it's better than any good, it is a great progression from 'Who Killed The Zutons', and sees them maturing into a band where the strength of the material is kept high across the whole record. Having highlighted the amount they toured as a possible downer in terms of fan fatigue, the plus side is they have become a really solid unit and there is now a striking confidence about this band. From the very first few seconds of 'Tired of Hangin' Around' it's clear they've stepped up a level and really mean business. They already have a top ten single to their name from this new material as 'Why Won't You Give Me Your Love' entered at nine in its first week of release, there's every reason to believe that they'll have a massive top ten album success too.

There is a really positive energy about this record. From the rock driven opening tracks 'Tired of Hangin' Around' and 'It's The Little Things That We Do' and 'Hello Conscience' towards the end which is another in that mould, to the softer more mellow offerings like 'Someone Watching Over Me', 'How Does It Feel?' and 'You've Got a Friend In Me', the standard is kept on a high with the variety on offer being a noticeable plus point. In between the two extremes are some classic pop moments, the first single is one of those and 'Oh Stacey (Look What You've Done)' which follows it has that sixties inspired vibe which the Zutons have been known to use before. However for me the track which stands head and shoulders above all others is 'Valerie'. This is the album's defining moment as it's the first time the standard of the song writing, confidence of the performance and machine like efficiency with which the whole package is delivered really hits home. If this isn't a huge hit then something's gone very wrong somewhere.

Even if you've never cared much for them before, if you pass them playing at a festival this summer, do yourself a favour and stop for a look. If this album is anything to go by, the live performances should be a step up from the last time you had the opportunity to see them in action. From the list of "difficult second albums" we're expecting in 2006, we can safely say the Zutons have successfully cleared this dangerous hurdle.