The best of music comes at you mercilessly. Like a raptor hurtling out of the blue sky, talons gleaming. And there’s me, a rabbit nibbling on a dandelion. Or like an express train screaming through the platform, and I’m an octogenarian stumbling along on the wrong side of the safety line. Whichever metaphor you prefer, when music is at its best, the outcome is bloody.
What’s more, we seem to have staggered into an era of such vapid music making that even lightweights like Lewis Capaldi are being heralded as giants in the vacuum created by the absence of anything really powerful.
What happened to loving bands? Following bands? Worshipping them? Collecting their stuff? Does anyone do that anymore? The vinyl renaissance continues apace, with collectors diligently posting pics of their marbled vinyl variant, only 7 pressed. They look wistfully at their purchase whilst sat in a wheat field. Then they dutifully slip it into a plastic sleeve and rack it on their Kallax shelf where it can sit, unplayed, with all the others. For me, album sleeves were meant to be pored over, memorized, consulted, carried round to someone else’s house, discussed, analysed. They acted as trays, or they got flung across the room.
When music is at its best, it should grab us by the throat and not become something we curate and become precious about, like shushy librarians.
And God knows, there’s precious little to save those records for. The Amazon is on fire, the U.S. seems to be regressing into the pre-civil rights era. Europe is at odds with itself and not least, this is down to the U.K.’s messy exit. This in itself brings up the Irish issue again and threatens the eggshell peace accord that has been in place for the past 20 years. So it’s little wonder then that there is a tranche of bands raging out of Ireland right now. Young men and women who were raised in the aftermath of the Good Friday agreement who are witnessing first-hand their country being treated as a political pawn.
Maybe I’m wrong, but the brooding hostility of The Murder Capital’s powerful debut, When I Have Fears, seems to suggest a band that are absolutely certain of their worth.
We have been here before of course. Joy Division. Bauhaus. The Pop Group. The Fall. Early Nick Cave. But that’s okay. Because remember when all those bands about 15 years back started doing the Joy Division thing? Interpol? Editors? Yeah it’s nothing like that dross. If you consider In The Flat Field and then imagine that album without the slightly awkward horror schtick. If you consider The Horrors at their best and then imagine them making a really great album. An album with, say, the intensity of Unknown Pleasures, those deeply personal lyrics that seemed to say everything even at their most obtuse.
Like Fontaines D.C., The Murder Capital produce romantic visions of a trapped life. There is passion here, and subtlety, and majesty, and restraint. But above all, there is a band with a debut album that kicks and snarls and reminds you to make the most of your time because life is short and the world is cruel. That’s what I want from music. I want that dark place: Unknown Pleasures, Suicide, in Utero, and all those other angry records by angry young people who don’t feel like they have a place. That don’t feel like they’ve got enough. Who have the feeling they’ve been cheated.
And while the hushed plainsong of penultimate track “How The Streets Adore Me Now” is the polar opposite of the jarring riffs and curled-lip vocals of opening tracks “For Everything,” with its disgusted chant of “for everything/for nothing,” and “More Is Less,” with its lascivious “and I love it” refrain, this is very much a whole work. The sound of a band jostling for a future as the music industry cracks and diminishes. The whispered utterances of “how the streets…”, impenetrable at first, give way to notions of broken communities and lost identities.
Like all great debuts, this will be hard to beat. But let’s not worry about the future. It probably won’t happen…