By The Research
It may surprise some of my acquaintances, but I didn't always spend my spare evenings propping up the bar at the Faversham nursing a pint of Theakston and stroking my chin to the latest peripheral sounds. My own Damascene moment came after I read about The Research in these very pages some four years ago. After careful monitoring of the listings I tracked them down to a support slot in the middle room at the Cockpit and, after half an hour listening to this na´vely charming trio, I realized that 'indie' - as I had known it - was alive and well.
At that point the band operated on a simple formula - Sarah's 'crash crash crash' drumming (anything but linear) and Georgia's subtle and dependable bass giving Russell free reign to muck about with his condemned Casio keyboard whilst bearing his soul with childlike profundity. And then they went away. Rumour had it that the Disaster had broken something or other in a freak snowboarding accident but, given the length of delay, I assumed they'd disappeared - leaving only a brief, if beautiful, legacy in the shape 'Breaking Up' - their sublimely erratic debut LP.
But it turned out that they hadn't disappeared - they'd merely metamorphosised. So now they're back, with one slight amendment to the line-up. It's still Sarah, Georgia and Russell, of course, but it would appear that the Casio has been pensioned off. Goodness knows what it'll mean for the live show, but it seems that Russell's taken up the guitar. And do you know what? He plays it rather well. In fairness to him, if he could somehow conjure 'She's Not Leaving' out of less than ten quid's worth of electronic cast-off then he's clearly got a way with a musical instrument - in whatever form it manifests itself. And this album is replete with impressive riffs, albeit those not featured in manuals of classical technique.
Of course it's still infused with the spirit of having been laid down in the garden shed and spliced together with sticky tape. Whilst someone's clearly spent time on the production, it obviously wasn't Mark Ronson. The fragility of the lyrics hasn't been swamped and the character of the group permeates throughout. Opener 'Golden Rules' is sonically lush, but is as sublime a way to start an LP as you could hope for. Subsequent tracks are jaunty and, if anything, enhanced by the driving rhythm of the new instrumental dynamic. Just check out 'I Would Like To Be Forgiven' to see how musically adventurous all of them can be. There's even some harmonica and neo-Cribsian shouty vocals thrown in for good measure.
'I Think She's The One I Love' comes across like 'I Bet If We Kissed' (from the first album) beefed up by some orchestration, something which suits this particular track. Like this particular forbear, backing vocals lend intensity. What is perhaps a shame is the lack of female lead on any of the tracks. Georgia's 'Lonely Hearts...' from the previous disc is still unsurpassed in the Research's canon, although 'She Is Cold As Death' or 'I Think I Know What Happens When You Die' may get there with repeated listens. Both, coincidentally, benefit from plangent guitar licks.
As with previous output, all these songs invite you into the slightly off-kilter, absent-minded and honest world that the band appear to inhabit. It's jaunty and listenable, and all the lyrics - as befits their importance - are discernible to a fault. Whilst the melodic variety of the guitar means that this can be listened to as background music - purely on the strength of the tunes - anyone so doing misses out on a lot. It's also likely that the occasional cacophonous intrusion from this newly acquired instrument will be more than enough to win back the ear of most listeners before it is allowed to wander too far. If you're jaded by mainstream conventionality then this album might just remind of what music can mean at a personal level.