Cast were one of Britpop's finest and most successful bands, shifting over a million copies of their debut 'All Change' and scoring plenty of hit singles. The demise of Britpop led Cast to attempt to move in a completely different direction with the ill advised cod-funk and naff breakbeats of their 2001 album 'Beetroot'. The record was a critical and commercial disaster, and the group split quickly afterwards. Thankfully in 2010 they were back together and 'Troubled Times' is the satisfying sound of Cast getting back to what they always did best and injecting new life and matured spirit into their old sound. Imagine a sequel to 'All Change' over 15 years on in a darker and different world and that's pretty much what this album is. Part of that may come from the fact that the legendary John Leckie, the producer of their 1995 debut has been given the call and was responsible for overseeing 'Troubled Times'.
Opener 'Bow Down' certainly has an air of starting all over again, sounding refreshed by rediscovering the sound that made them great when they began all those years ago and revitalised by having a second chance to build on it. The guitars ring out positively, John Power's unmistakable Liverpudlian delivery is brilliantly familiar and occasionally the short post-chorus breaks bear shades of 1999's 'Magic Hour' in the short weeping guitar solos. The sound may have gone back to the mid 90s but the lyrics ensure that the record is an album of the times, songs dealing with the ecological, social, political and economical breakdowns of the current day and age. For example the standout 'Troubled Thoughts' matches a bouncy La's rhythm with a stormy outlook on the world and 'The Sky's Got A Gaping Hole' puts the subject of environmental apathy to an enjoyable 'Revolver'-esque musical backdrop and some rather questionable lyrics to produce one of the album's best moments.
'See That Girl' is particularly wonderful, a simple and charmingly sad love song built on a sublime Byrds-style riff and a musical nature that has a lot in common with 'There She Goes', so much so that it sounds destined for a romantic comedy soundtrack. It's the sweet and tender moment that this album needed to provide a bit of relief from stuff like 'Not Afraid Of This World' where Power takes a defiant stance against the way information is controlled by the media, and the seething Smiths-like gloom of 'Silver And Gold', very probably Cast's darkest moment yet. 'Bad Waters' channels bitterness, regret and predictions of ruin into another danger fuelled stomp while 'Hold On Tight' is not unlike a groovy apocalypse expecting relative of 'Free Me', illustrating dangerous religious disagreements and mankind's desire to fight "phony idealogical wars in vain". This theme is continued during the wearily bleak 'Brother Fighting Brother' where Power delivers his deepest, most cracked vocal yet before the brilliant 'Time Bomb' provides a welcome break from such doom and gloom with a bright Merseybeat rhythm and a classic Cast melody that sounds like it's travelled from 1995.
At first the closing 'Tear It Apart All Over Again' may be a bit repetitive but in reality this is Cast at their most direct and instinctive, ending the album with a short, memorable singalong that ends the album in a casual, low key but slightly throwaway manner. Cast seem to have discovered that simple British rock and roll is what they always did best, and with 'Troubled Times' they've put things right and made sure 2001's diabolical 'Beetroot' wasn't the last we ever heard from them. Whether they continue to make more records after this or not, 'Troubled Times' restores a great deal of faith in their abilities, although it falls slightly short of being the classic comeback record that fans had been hoping for. Maybe it's the lack of a big epic, or the fact that a couple of the songs tend to blend into one and repeat themselves musically and lyrically. This record certainly wouldn't win any prizes for diversity either. Minor criticisms aside, it's great to have Cast back. They don't need to reinvent themselves and pleasingly it seems they've finally realised that. 8/10