By Red Light Company
'Fine Fascination' is an album that makes no efforts to disguise its ambitions: it's an album that wants to fill stadiums, and it sounds fittingly huge. Oddly, these ten tracks of soaring, arena-filling melodies and massive choruses disguise a darker underbelly, as Red Light Company's lyrics discuss suicide, prostitution and drug addiction. The overall effect is music that'll lift you up and put a smile on our face, and then rapidly remove it when you realise just what frontman Richard Frenneaux is singing about.
A perfect example is 'With Lights Out.' It's reportedly written about a school friend's suicide, and features fittingly grim lyrics. However, the chorus makes a shameless play for those adrenal glands, as Red Light Company scrawl a dizzy, busy-body riff all over the already-sky-scraping guitars and springy drumbeats. It's a giddiness-inducing sound that's custom-made to get arenas bouncing, but the angst that lies behind it isn't immediately obvious. Whether the gradually-revealed darkness is a welcome surprise, giving 'With Lights Out' greater emotional depth, or whether it jars against the upbeat melodies, depends on you as an individual, but it's certainly a disorientating combination.
But, although Red Light Company always take pains to sound absolutely massive and exhilarating (despite a song's subject matter) 'Fine Fascination' is far from an over-produced, over-polished, stadium-rock blank.
First track is the utterly addictive, quirky indie-pop of 'Words of Spectacular.' Packed with more character than any one song should have, 'Words...' is a fierce statement of individuality. Bone-popping riffs hitch across pulsating drumbeats, while Frenneaux alternates between falsetto yelps and a poised, indie drawl. It may sound like the recipe for a musical nightmare, but this quirky, jerky alt-pop number will get lodged in your head like sugar-coated shrapnel.
Second track, and third single, 'Scheme Eugene' is another shot of kooky musical euphoria. The chorus in particular is wonderfully odd, as the vocals seem to drift out of tune towards the end of each line. It may sound as though Red Light Company are struggling to make the words fit the music, but that drawling edge is a surprisingly effective hook that'll have your finger fastened firmly to the 'repeat' button. Even better, those mock out-of-tune vocals build to a triumphant cry of "what you don't have / you won't miss it when you're gone."
The whole, chewy-centered indie-pop package is trimmed in chiming synths that solidify 'Scheme Eugene's status as the song to listen to when you're in desperate need of a pick-me-up.
'New Jersey Television' also pulls the trick of keeping the vocals slightly out of sync with the music, as Frenneaux's voice patters all over the song's steady rhythms. It's as catchy here, as on 'Scheme Eugene,' and it's these little quirky flourishes that'll stop the cynics from dismissing 'Fine Fascination' as characterless, stadium-rock-by-numbers.
It seems like Red Light Company have gone all simplistic on us, as 'Arts & Crafts' opens with a piano-led first verse. However, forty seconds in and they can't restrain themselves any longer: cracking out those skittering chords, springing drumbeats and arcing riffs in a dramatic explosion of stadium-aspiring sound.
The verses draw attention to Red Light Company's knack for penning neat, stick-in-the-mind phrases, that somehow manage to sound meaningful, without making an awful lot of sense (in this instance it's "I was the first and I'm the last / I wasn't good at arts and crafts.") The chorus is another slice of the life-affirming, adrenaline-releasing, helter-skelter sound we've come to expect from Red Light Company.
On the downside, Frenneaux's groaned "m-ooooo-oooove, my moo-ooo-oood" vocal is painfully annoying, and the song does get a little overcomplicated and messy-sounding towards the end, but 'Arts & Crafts' is so overblown, it'll sweep you along for the ride. Resistance really is futile, which can also be said of 'The Architect.'
This song should be approached with caution, one listen you will be humming it for the next twenty-four hours. Solidly. Frenneaux's vocal rhythms are hypnotic, twisting endlessly around themselves and entangling the listener in the process. The final forty seconds are even worse, as 'The Architect's torturously catchy chorus is looped, and Frenneaux's relentless vocal whirlpools suck you in. Hellishly addictive.
But, it isn't all enthralling rock anthems for the masses, 'First We Land,' 'Meccano' and 'When Everyone Is Everyone Else' are completely overshadowed by the rest of this album.
'Meccano' does have many fine points, but its clunky, lullaby-like synths aren't one of them. When they're chiming away beneath a rush of sugar-sprinkled riffs and pogo-ing drumbeats, it's just about tolerable, but when Red Light Company 'treat' us to a pre-chorus synth-solo, 'Meccano' is just plain annoying.
Even worse is 'First We Land,' which plods insipidly along, and is only saved from complete non-entity status by Frenneaux's voice, which has just enough character to hold the listener's attention.
'When Everyone Is Everyone Else' has a steadier groove, with rumbling, bass-driven verses and choruses that may have the trademark dramatically crashing guitars, but never quite reaches the highs the rest of this album seems to attain so effortlessly.
Thankfully, 'Fine Fascination' ends on a fittingly grandiose note, with the black-hearted, alt-rock pulse of 'The Alamo.' Red Light Company's most obviously grim number, 'The Alamo' is all machine-gun drumbeats, jerking riffs and darkly-reverberating bass lines, with unnerving secondary vocals skulking along in the background.
The choruses are typically exhilarating and huge-sounding, but 'The Alamo' manages to retain its darker slant thanks to deep, groaning bass lines that are kept right at the top of the mix.
'The Alamo' is a clattery, disjointed rock song of many different parts that proves Red Light Company aren't all about that instant, stadium-rock thrust.
Everything about 'Fine Fascination' is scaled up to stadium-size, and sped up to adrenal-gland-bothering speeds. Consequently, the only thing it'll make you feel is it's-great-to-be-alive exhilaration, even when Red Light Company are singing about unpleasant topics. This is an album for those who like their music instant, accessible and easy. However, Red Light Company bring a fair amount of quirky, alt-pop individuality to the stadium-rock genre, which just may lure in a few people who'd normally listen to something a little rougher around the edges.
Stadium-aspiring rock with a commendable amount of kooky, indie/alt-pop character.