It’s been said that everything old is new again. This is nowhere more true than in the music world. Besides the seemingly never-ending supply of reunion tours, the other aspect of `forced history’ lies in the gigantic swath of bands trying to replicate their favorites from back in the day. Generally, these bands are hit or miss, and most of the time, even when they do well the first time out, their second effort (you know, that sophomore album that finds the band wanting to `broaden their palate’) sinks like a pewter submarine in the bathtub. Time can only tell with Leeds’ The Lodger. For now, they have the first act down, the debut album that recalls a particular time and signature style, that being fey British jangle-pop of the mid to late ’80s. So, although fans that wear black on the outside because black is how they feel on the inside might be even more depressed since Morrissey turned down a cool $75 million dollars to do a Smiths reunion tour, they can rejoice (calmly, mildly, with the foresight that nothing good ever lasts and life is cruel) in Grown-Ups.
With a name like The Lodger, you’d think that this Leeds threesome would be fanatics of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. When that turned out not to be so, I surmised that maybe it was a sly reference to the lead singer of the band with which they are so often mentioned in the same breath. In 1927, Alfred Hitchcock directed his first thriller, albeit a silent one, loosely based on Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, called, The Lodger. One of Morrissey’s best b-sides is “Jack the Ripper.” I know it’s a stretch, but crazier things have happened. More likely than that convoluted explanation is the fact that the band originated in singer / guitarist Ben Siddall’s bedsit.
There’s so much here that resembles the Smiths, it would be a massive shocker to hear that they weren’t an influence. Even the black and white photography of buildings on primary-colored paper takes after the artwork so often employed by the legendary band. Then take a look at the band’s photo on the back cover of the inlay. Ummm…Morrissey and Marr, anyone? “Many Thanks for Your Honest Opinion” and “Kicking Sand,” the first two tracks on Grown-Ups, hold to that theory also. “Getting Special,” on the other hand, has more of a disco feel, kind of like Madness meets the Pet Shop Boys with a touch of Belle & Sebastian. In fact, B&S is another good reference point to use when discussing the Lodger, considering that Siddall’s voice lacks the throaty strength of Morrissey’s and is probably closer to that of Stuart Murdoch, or perhaps Francis Reader of the Trashcan Sinatras. The lyrics, ambiguous sexuality and all, of “Simply Left Behind” will please Smiths fans with its sense of being alienated from love. Plus, Siddall’s guitars are probably at their most Marr-velous (groan) in this track. There are several magical moments on Grown-Ups including the aforementioned groove of “Getting Special,” the sublime chorus of “Let Her Go,” and my favorite track on the album, the Blur / Kaiser Chiefs-esque “Watching.”
At a whopping fourteen tracks, the Lodger has a little something for everyone, except those with short attention spans. In which case, I suggest you just pick up their singles, or listen to the album in chunks. As I stated previously, the Lodger has their first step into stardom down, the requisite first album that sounds like a cherished part of musical history. Now they just have to avoid that dreaded bit of experimentation that often comes from the misguided notion that they have to `avoid’ sounding like the bands they love. They should probably just take a cue from recent Northern successes such as the Kaiser Chiefs and the Arctic Monkeys, sticking to their guns and putting out solid second efforts. Those like myself, who reveled in the twee and fey sounds of English music in the mid to late ’80s would do well to pick up the Lodger’s Grown-Ups. If nothing else, the guitar lines in songs like “Not so Fast” and “Bye Bye” will make you forget that Johnny Marr is now with Modest Mouse and Morrissey has threatened to hang up `daddy’s voice’ for good after his most recent set of dates. Don’t cry, it’ll be okay, The Lodger feel your pain.
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The Smiths- Strangeways, Here We Come
Trashcan Sinatras- Cake