Underground Lovers? first new album this century proves some reunions are worth attending, writes ANDREW P STREET.
Much of the stigma of The Reunion Album has worn off these days – this month alone there are reformation discs from artists as diverse as Black Sabbath, Suede and Iggy & the Stooges – but bands who get the old team back together still have a higher bar to clear. For one thing, you’re competing with the best of your younger self, not to mention the bands that have emerged in your wake. For another, it’s got to somehow justify your being there in the first place: anything less than a masterpiece is going to be received with a why-did-you-bother shrug.
The advantage Underground Lovers (or undergroundLOVERS if you absolutely must) have is that no-one’s really taken up their mantle in their absence. Bands like Gaslight Radio and Gersey ran with the hypnotic wall of guitars for a bit in the late ?90s, but never quite had the groove; the likes of Pretty Boy Crossover nailed the electronics but lacked the live element. After all, when was the last time you described a band as sounding ?Underground Lovers-esque?? I’ll save you some time: never.
That means Weekend has only to compete with the Lovers? (admittedly formidable) back catalogue rather than 14 years of sound-alikes, and if the Phillipa Nihill-sung ?Spaces? seems to suggest a reflective, atmospheric album, that’s because it’s more a gentle prelude than a proper curtain-raiser.
?It’s possibly the best-sounding UL album yet – It sounds like a band, with the drums live and raw and the vocals up-front.?
The real reintroduction comes on the next track. The magnificent ?Can for Now? has appeared in recent live sets and is a classic Vince Giarrusso-sung chugger, a livelier little brother to ?Takes You Back?. It’s followed by the gorgeous, Slowdive-y ?Haunted (Acedia)? which showcases what the band do so beautifully well: feedback lines across drawn-out chords, and the repeated ?Memory waits on you? evokes Grant McLennan’s similar plaintive lament from [?Cattle and Cane?](http://www.youtube.com/watch’v=pq1s6FCEoZM). And before you sneer that’s the sort of desperate connection that music critics continually reach for, I draw your attention to ?Riding?.
It’s a glorious love letter to early Go-Betweens from the 9:8 time signature onwards: ?We were at a party! Rob and Grant were there! Lindy in an afro! We was dancing on the stairs!? before the chorus hammers home ?See me riding/See me slide/At the Cattle & Cane disco.? They’re not above referencing themselves on Weekend either: I defy anyone not to grin slyly at Giarrusso’s ?It’s the way you kind of take me back? that opens ?St Germaine?.
?Signs of Weakness? starts off with a very New Order suspended chord progression before the drum machine kicks in over the live drums and things get very Dream It Down-era (guitar flange outside of a Cure record? Oh, it’s been a while?). ?Au Pair? is a bit of a formless rocker but picks up the pace as the album heads toward its end, dropping back for Nihill’s gentle ?In Silhouette? (which seems about to burst into ?Ways t’Burn? – and hey, that would be perfect live?) before the album closes with the Neu!-style motorik of the seven-minute-plus ?The Lie That Sets You Free?
And let’s face it: with [all the changes in the band over the years](/icons/4372192), this is the proper line-up. It’s the first time since 1996 that both Giarrusso and Nihill’s voice have appeared on an Underground Lovers album, and it’s so good to hear them together again. As always, Glenn Bennie’s guitars drive most of the songs with big chords and subtle changes, while the rhythm section of Maurice Argiro and Richard Andrew are the powerhouse. Props to Argiro in particular: he never gets to show off, but his simple, repetitive bass lines are the anchor for almost every song here.
It’s possibly the best-sounding UL album yet. There’s plenty of space, compared with the over-rich effects-on-all-the-effects atmosphere of Dream it Down* or the claustrophobic density of *Way’s t’Burn*. It also sounds like a *band, with the drums live and raw and the vocals up-front.
If Weekend was simply the seventh Underground Lovers album it’d be considered exceptional. That it’s appeared after so long a break makes it nothing short of amazing.