in the past decade pop has really become a dirty word, thanks to the amount of inane drivel that dominates charts and radio airwaves the world over.
But every now and then a spectacular musical force rises up from the landfill of throwaway hooks, sexy poses and layers of cheese to stake a claim for credible pop music.
In 2005 it was Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz with Feel Good Inc, in 2006 it was Gnarls Barkley with Crazy and in 2007 it was Amy Winehouse with her prophetic Rehab.
These songs stand out among the schlock that Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, Nelly Furtardo, James Blunt, Avril Levigne and the Pussy Cat Dolls have been knocking out for the past few years.
In 2008 the new champion of intelligent pop music is a four-piece who go by the name of Wild Beasts and the song is their debut single, Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants.
The lyrics offer a tongue-in-cheek look at the hedonistic youth of Britain. It sounds like an off-kilter hybrid of Kate Bush, The Smiths, Orange Juice and Roxy Music, all fantastic purveyors of tasteful pop music themselves.
“We do like pop music,” says Wild Beasts bassist Tom Flemming over the phone from Leeds. “But the problem with pop music is that generally people who know nothing about your culture are selling your culture back to you.
“We want to talk to people like ‘this is your music’,” he says. “Especially because we felt a bit isolated as kids and we want to speak to those kids and say you can have this, this is for you.”
When I point out to Flemming that it is a role that The Smiths were credited with in the 1980s and that many fans felt that Morrisey and Johnny Marr were writing songs specifically for them, he is quick to agree.
“The Smiths reimagined Northerness. That’s the big feature in British music. You can’t be a Northern band without conforming to this cartoon stereotype of being macho, swigging beer and getting into fights and shit. It’s just a load of nonsense really,” says Flemming. “A lot of our music is a reaction to the laddish Brit-pop swagger.”
So these four lads from Kendal in the United Kingdom’s Lake District are more Morrisey’s North than that of Oasis and the lager louts, but what about that other great Northern pop band, Roxy Music?
“The great thing about Roxy Music was how absurd they were,” says Flemming. “They had this impression of being this big gay party band and they weren’t that at all. They were very clever musically.”
Flemming says that Wild Beasts have a similar sense of duality in their music: “I think there is definitely a lot of humour in our music and I suppose it is like a guard against not taking yourself too seriously,” he says. “The title of the album, Limbo, Panto, is also part of that duality thing, where something can be laugh-out-loud funny and really, really sad. It’s allowed to be both.
“I think we wanted to write about things that aren’t often written about and there is a lot of beauty in mundane things, in the ways that people live their lives. When people write songs they tend to focus on the big things such as love and death, but there is a lot in the everyday things, little triumphs and defeats.”
This is clearly evident in their debut album’s lyrics. There is the barroom brawl: “In the bowls of the bar two boys spar / Don’t flinch an inch and territories marked”; casual sex: “Huffing and puffing on the mattress stuffing”; the football fan: “There’ll be no treason this season / The players, they bask / The boss he basks / Just win the big match, it’s all I can ask”; and then to top it all off the delightful line: “Take these chips with cheese as an offering of peace”.
Although Wild Beasts might be singing about the ordinary and the mundane, the way they present their suburban tales and the language that is used to do it is anything but.
Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto vocals, which are reminiscent of Kate Bush, Morrisey and Antony Hegarty, will be the first thing to smack you across the side of the head, but the music is a complete trip too.
Ultimately, Limbo, Panto is something new altogether and the more you listen the more you will realise that it stands out on its own, a unique musical vision. For a debut album, that is a marvelous achievement.