Once the life of the party, Muscles feels abridged and sanitised on his long-awaited second album, writes SHAUN PRESCOTT.
While the nation’s gurning festival patrons eagerly embraced Muscles’ 2007 debut, its songs were equally suited to nursing mouth ulcers the next morning. And therein once lay the beauty of Muscles: he put on a party but he also sang about parties, and all the embarrassing stuff that would result from said parties, and all the traumatic stuff that happened between parties. Muscles’ productions were an affront to his anxiety-laden lyrics, and the struggle between his words and these sounds – solid, unerring, brash - was what made the record special, if not always much fun to listen to.
Arch, self-effacing pop music is still Muscles’ MO on Manhood, but it feels abridged and sanitised, like the rougher edges and the awkward moments have been sanded away. While still big, stupid and ugly, these lumbering fluoro vignettes are no longer offset by the social apprehension that marked Muscles of old. If red Vodka cruisers and the social pics at the back of the Brag joined, became sentient, and formed an annoying band, that band would sound like this record.
Which previously wouldn’t have been insulting, because Muscles’ music used to be as annoying as his lyrics were endearingly neurotic. That’s just thematic consistency! But now his lyrics are as superfluous as his music is annoying, and that, indeed, is just plain insulting. There are vague platitudinal references to growing up here (‘Boys Become Men’), and strangely dispirited promises of dedication (‘I’ll Follow You’) but Muscles never sounds engaged, or even convincingly aloof – his voice is almost menacingly incapable of conveying anything. It’s taxing.
He doesn’t give himself much room to move either: his limited vocal range, once an endearing quirk, is hung out to dry across the album’s persistent 4/4s. Worse still, his register is the same whether he’s emoting about a woman having changed his mind for good (‘Changing My Mind for Good’) or having a girlfriend five years younger than he (‘1823’). Again, this doesn’t play out like cool detachment: it just sounds like he’s singing while slumped in his desk chair, browsing Brown Cardigan on his Macbook.
During a recent interview Muscles spoke of all the other grand ideas he has for his music. He sounds like a pretty ambitious guy, and he’s well entitled to be: he’s a talented producer and his music makes people happy. What’s abundantly clear though, is that Muscles is bored in this present guise. Manhood may hold up at a festival or on a dancefloor, but at home and up close, it’s just annoying.
'Manhood' is out now through Modular.
Listen to 'Manhood':