One Foot In The Shade....
A Half Step Into The Shadow by The Purnells. Released Feb 2014
It’s funny, the way that music can evoke such strong memories. You hear stories about coma patients responding to their favourite song, see sickening couples going all soppy-eyed when ‘their song’ comes on, (after you with the bucket) and think about the time you drunkenly danced to that crappy non-hit-wonder Eurotune on holiday after one too many weirdly coloured cocktails before getting off with a waiter and waking up on a taverna floor. Or something.
In this case, listening to A Half Step Into The Shadow - the follow-up to last year’s debut Resurrection Men - transports me back to a cold November night in Stockton, stood on the orlop deck of a ruddy great warship watching these guys tear the place a new one. I wrote about it here. It was one of the best gigs I went to last year, and definitely one of the most memorable with its ski masks, face painting and general running-round-like-a-maniac-tomfoolery of front man Stu. In hindsight, considering how many tracks on this album were performed that night it was a bloody good preview!
This time round we're at the Georgian Theatre and the songs are being played in the order they appear on the album - so much easier than trying to note down a setlist. We arrived as Leeds-based support act Paris XY were taking to the stage (apologies John and the Ragmen, the taxi was late). After a quirky, incredibly cool performance by this talented duo it's time to watch a trippy, mean and moody film of a load of trees for a few minutes. If you go down to the woods today...
There’s a definite, darker shift to this new release [hence the title, I guess. Clever that], a rawer intensity and - as much as I absolutely detest the phrase - a real sense of light and shade. Or dark and shade, if you will. It’s not all big, blowsy guitars, driving drumbeats and shouty vocals, although they’re still lurking in corners ready to pounce on you when you least expect it. The whole thing has a more hunkered down, laidback, cool sound and sounds more together, more evolved, like it’s music they really mean rather than music they just play. Imagine a big pot filled with Muse, The Shadows, Kaiser Chiefs, Johnny Cash, White Stripes, The Strokes and The Kinks. It’s nothing like that. Fun though, wasn’t it?
Opening track Ten Bob is a rousing, frantic, riff-tastic call to arms and kicks off proceedings pretty well. It’s probably the closest song to anything from the last album and has a driving urgency running through it with revved-up rhythms and fiery, almost staccato lyrics. Next up is Ghosts, the first song I remember from last year’s gig - predominantly because I misheard the chorus as ‘goats won’t harm you’. A great live track, especially with its ridiculously extended pause halfway through - a pause so pregnant it's screaming for an epidural, fooling the crowd into a premature round of applause. Buggers. It leads to one of my favourite songs, Run.
Run is gorgeous, pure and simple. Ethereal, melodic and dreamy, complete with an unexpected plinky bit in the middle. It reminds me a little of Underwater Love with its laidback vibe, though the lyrics - talking of secrets buried in the ground and running away from the demons that hide in the trees - are much darker than you first realise. Considering my favourite songs are usually the fast-paced shouty ones, Run was a bit of a revelation.
Change My Skin picks the pace up again with a Strokes-esque strut, rapidly followed by the jaunty, plucky, almost bouzouki like sound of Straw That Broke. It’s like being back in that taverna again (hide the Ouzo). Back To The Sea sounds just like its title - ebbing, flowing, slow and lilting. I find myself swaying along, getting the feeling that the next song to come along is going to shake me right out of this rhythmic reverie.
Whoa. Bluesy, laconic and moody, Empty Pockets really delivers, with whoops in the chorus, a build up that pulls you along faster the louder it gets and some nifty harmonica work. It’s engrained in my brain as Ski Mask Song, after the surprisingly sinister sight of Stu stalking round the deck wearing one after unexpectedly donning it mid-song last time I saw them.
Following track Il Capitano keeps the tempo high and proves very popular with the crowd, who shimmy along and whoop accordingly. It leads into what has turned out to be my most played tune, the utterly brilliant Filthy Beggar.
I freely admit I have a dirty mind. Lyrics like ‘slide down as I look to the ceiling, way down and swallow the feeling’ are just going to send my eyebrows skywards. This song is full of those moments It’s like someone grabbed a growly, swaggering indie rock anthem and spiked its JD with Viagra. I love it, and not just for the fnarrrrr lyrics, it’s a cracking tune as well. Fifty shades of ace.
These Animals mellows things down with a few whooooooaaaaaa-along choruses, Raise Your Voice chucks a hefty dose of funk into the mix and Dead Roads ends our high/low rollercoaster ride with a mellow rock ballad, complete with the soaring guitars and vocals that this band do so well. It’s been a surprisingly emotional journey.
The sheer depth of the songs on this album really impressed me, there’s so much variation that still manages to have a coherent, characteristic vibe running through it. I’ll fully admit that I was looking forward to hearing this, but I’m not blowing smoke up anyone’s arse here (although there might be a line in Filthy Beggar about that. Ooh matron), this is genuinely good stuff. Performance wise, they have it spot on - a heady mix of intense, mad, moody and fun with a shitload of G&Ts and fake banknotes thrown in and stirred with a Pimp Stick
The album was launched on February 8th at The Georgian Theatre, Stockton. You can find the album - and the band - with a quick search through the usual social media outlets.
In loving memory of Pimp Sticks 1 and 2. R.I.P