Friday, 24 February 2012

REVIEW : Dodgy - Stand Upright In A Cool Place

During the wonderful mid 90's power pop trio Dodgy were pretty much a household name. With their inescapable summer anthems, fun jubilant festival performances and their down to earth personalities, they were never seen to be as cool or credible as some of Britpop's other luminaries. A follow up to 1996's hit album 'Free Peace Sweet' was expected a couple of years later but instead in 1998 the band issued a 'best of' album and a final single before the three piece split up at the height of their success. Thankfully about a decade later old wounds were healed and the original line up were reunited once again. After all those years away Dodgy knew that they had to take their time to come back with something great and they have certainly succeeded. Reflections and regrets translate into the introspective tone of much of the album, and learning many lessons from life has resulted in the best music of their career.

But instead of attempting to rehash the sound of the Britpop years they decided to stay true to themselves and make an album representing the natural sound of where they stand musically in 2012, and the result of the group now being older and wiser. The first Dodgy album in over 15 years begins with the hypnotic ghostly acoustic picking of 'Tripped And Fell', a clever folk epic with splashes of psychedelica and blissful harmonies, with lyrics telling the story of a Malvern monk who one day meets a local girl and falls in love for the first time. The one track is a journey in itself and it's only the beginning of the wonderful trip that 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place' takes you on. The cruising West Coast vibes of 'What Became Of You' are touched by regret and self reflection while coming complete with a highly addictive chorus. 

'We Try' is a brilliant singalong while 'Shadows' is tinged with world-weary Americana and subtly demonstrates the band's love for Neil Young and Townes Van Zant in a way that still sounds like the work of great British songwriters. Then comes the simple wintery folk of 'Did It Have To Be This Way', which has a musical warmth that could melt an iceberg, and even the coldest of hearts couldn't fail to be touched by the final bridge where Nigel Clark substitutes the previous "it's a crying shame" for a softly-spoken heartfelt "it's a fucking shame". Like the rest of the album it has a lovely organic sound, partly achieved by it being recorded at a secluded Malvern farm. Listen to the breaking barn doors and birdsong during the intro to 'Raggedstone Hill' for an example of the natural beauty these songs often portray. 

'Waiting For The Sun' is beautifully melancholic soul music touched by real feelings of longing and yearning while the stunning 'Only A Heartbeat' is a particularly moving tribute to departed loved ones and has the sort of perfectly constructed melody that you will never forget. At the beginning of the album 'Tripped And Fell' tells the story of a monk falling in love and discovering a new kind of life, but the tale has a grim and unhappy ending as the monk is punished for breaking his vows by being made to climb up the 'Raggedstone Hill' on his hands and knees every day until his death. The aforementioned Malvern hill gives its name to the album's 6 minute centrepiece where the blood, sweat and suffering of the subject matter is perfectly captured by the heaving emotion of the music. It is without a doubt one of the most poignant and powerful tales of love you will ever hear and could very well be Dodgy's masterpiece. 

Elsewhere there's the humble, understated acoustic beauty of 'Find A Place' and more reminiscent of old Dodgy is 'Back Of You' where the current Tory regime is told where to go. In fact a Conservative government was also in charge last time Dodgy released an album, another reminder of just how long it's been since those Britpop days. The album ends fittingly with the solemn grace of 'Happy Ending', which is in fact rather a mournful ending, with more wonderful acoustic finger picking that suggests the group may have been listening to a lot of Midlake, while the chorus bears beautifully sad shades of The Korgis' 'Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes'.

While the group have matured like a fine wine, the songs still represent what people loved about the band during the 90s and that is their strong melodies and well crafted tunes. In fact their advancing years have made them even better songwriters than they were all those years ago, and as musicians their confidence and imagination has also expanded. 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place' will surprise a lot of people, even the most stubborn of cynics. It is also their tidiest and most cohesive work to date, and from start to finish is an absolute joy to experience. A most welcome and refreshing comeback. 9

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