Anthemic collection of tunes with echoes of Nineties Britpop – just don’t listen to the words too closely
I ONCE had a slightly pompous music teacher who was surprisingly receptive to my pop songwriting efforts. In between trying to persuade me to join the choir or attend orchestra practice more often, he gave me a useful tip: ‘Come up with meaningful lyrics and they will drive the music.’
I couldn’t help recalling that advice from my schooldays while listening to Infinite Variety, the latest offering from Edinburgh alternative rock four-piece, The Cathode Ray. The accompanying Press blurb invokes a head-spinning variety of influences spanning three decades of rock and pop. Bowie, the Stones, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, Isley Brothers, Depeche Mode and Blur, to name a few. In equal measure, this album claims to be ‘experimental’ and ‘loosely a concept album’ with a ‘loose narrative’.
In my view, it’s a solid toe-tapping rock collection, in parts anthemic, with a strong Nineties Britpop flavour. Indeed, there are nods to experimentation instrumentally, while track four, the highly melodic ‘Don’t Waste Your Words’, makes a determined stab at Seventies-era glam-rock. But to me, this Scottish four-piece seem most at home with the kind of ‘wall of sound’ rock style that defined Oasis in the Nineties and beyond.
For instance, album opener ‘Backed Up’ begins with the edgy sound of alternating cowbells (one tuned higher than the other), offset against power chords (soon exchanged for dissonant bar chords). By three-and-a-quarter minutes in, the track settles into such a rich – and entirely harmonious – instrumental groove that you won’t want it to end. The ‘La La La’ vocal section offset against a searing lead guitar solo echoes Oasis style (Think ‘All Around The World’), and if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy Infinite Variety. I also enjoyed track three, ‘Nowhere At All’, with its strong opening riff and catchy tune.
But there is frankly little in the way of narrative or concept on show here. While this record claims to explore the ‘human condition’ and ‘love in all its forms’, discernable themes are pretty thin on the ground. You may find yourself at a loss to know why lead singer Jeremy Thoms is ‘Torn Apart’, what his ’Saving Grace’ is, or what his ‘Eureka Moment!’ stemmed from. I know I was.
In 11 tracks, I could only detect vague pleas for greater honesty (‘No Holds Barred’) and less arguing (‘Nowhere At All’ and ‘Don’t Waste Your Words’). I imagine this indicates he has a difficult time with his missus, but who knows.
Overall, I found the lyrics just a bit too over-reliant on clichés and vague, allusive descriptions. Take this extract from ‘No Holds Barred’: ‘Make an opening gambit/A stab in the dark/State clearly your point of view/It’s a walk in the park.’
So do lyrics matter? Former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker said in 2011: ‘In order to ring true, a song must be rooted in your own personal experience… Life is the important bit and detail is the key… When you put such details into songs, they bestow authenticity.’