The Telltales


Michael Smith, Drum Media, 16 Feb 05

“More tales of quiet loss and love, sadness and hope from a band that should be much more widely known and appreciated than it seems to be at the moment. Which is a shame. Listening to their self-titled debut album two years ago I was citing references like Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, at least as far as the approach songwriter Toby Roberts was treating his melodies. Perhaps those references should be expanded now to include the bittersweet stories of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook aka UK Squeeze, particularly in the way Roberts explores the tales within Christmas Day and Sorry, as quietly heart-wrenching as Up The Junction, and just as solidly based in the moribund urban normality that passes for real life in our contemporary world.

Perhaps too, the musical references should be broadened to embrace the likes of Travis and Coldplay, if only to place The Telltales within a contemporary context that relates more directly to what the four-piece is creating in Haymaking. There are some time and mood changes within some of the songs now, or more particularly in The Phone Call and Sleep Crime.

The secret weapon is Roberts’ voice, that acts as a stillpoint within what is a remarkably subtle musical landscape, yet delivers, beneath and behind the bright, brittle pop melodies, the sting of a darker, more sublime possibility. Not every tale is delivered in the subtext of course. There’s the more straightforward dismissal of I Won’t Be There, the surprising socio-economic slap of Market News, or Could It Be, for me the weakest track on an otherwise wonderfully realised album. Then there’s the moral fable of Billy Box Head, perhaps the most unlikely pop song I’ve heard in years.

Woven around that voice are bass lines as sinuous as any Nick Seymour delivered in Crowded House, swooning string parts, the odd tinkling piano, understated drumming and crosshatching acoustic and electric guitar lines, all adding texture and context without ever becoming overwhelming, even as they crescendo. Great melodies, intelligent playing, thoughtful arrangements and insightful lyrics—what more could you ask for in a pop record?”

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