Review: Dodgy – Stand Upright in a Cool Place
Published on February 24th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz… First studio album by the original Dodgy line-up since 1996’s hugely popular Free Peace Sweet. Last month, drummer Mathew Priest told Rocksucker…
“It’s deeper, more romantic, darker, richer, a bit slower, and it’s very bucolic in its feel as it was recorded in the country, at the foot of the northern hills. It was mixed by Matt Pence, who did the last John Grant and Midlake album [Queen of Denmark]; we sent the album to Bella Union off the cuff because we really like their output, like Fleet Foxes, Beach House, John Grant, Midlake, so we just sent it to them and they came back saying, ‘This is much better than I thought it would be, real high-quality stuff! Talk to this guy [Matt Pence].’ So we did, and he loved it as well.
We’ve been getting big thumbs-up all round, really, which is great because we recorded and mixed it ourselves with help from Robin Evans, who’s an engineer we’ve worked with for years. We really understood what we wanted. It was literally just the four of us in this rickety, wooden studio in May and June last year, and you can hear all the noises on the record: doors creaking, tractors outside, bees buzzing, birds…you can hear it all on there. I can smell the studio every time I listen to it. It’s very evocative.”
“What Became of You”
Sounds like… Mature Dodgy, and mercifully not the kind of ‘mature’ that serves as shorthand for ‘insipid self-satisfaction’. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; Stand Upright in a Cool Place takes a slower course than Homegrown and Free Peace Sweet, but it has no less fire in its belly. Or, rather, selfsame fire now burns more intensely than ever in the band’s collective heart. Basically, it’s beautiful stuff.
Opener “Tripped and Fell” rides in on minor key acoustic fingerpicking and what sounds a bit like a wolf howling in the distance, setting the stage for three-piece close harmonies that recall The Coral’s “Spanish Main”. The song’s occasional flourishes of psychedelia are tremendously executed, providing an early insight into the album’s understatedly strong songwriting and production values. “I tripped and fell that day/Into the arms of a girl so pretty/A beauty I’d never seen/I left my hopes and my prayers behind/My life awoke from a dream” sings front man Nigel Clark with a rueful sense of nostalgia belying the exhortation of beauty, before the track acquires a bouncy gait towards the end more reconcilable with the Dodgy we knew and loved from the ‘90s.
Single “What Became of You” manages to get away with wielding the overfamiliar lyric “Be yourself, be no-one else/It’s alright” – and even with sounding perilously close to The Eagles in its chorus – by virtue of its being so gosh darn breezy sounding, unpretentious yet confident enough to throw a Tropicalia-ish piano riff into its chorus, while “We Try” really does start off sounding like you’d expect the moon to if it could somehow pick out simple lead guitar riffs, its chorus boasting perhaps the most affectingly weary delivery of the word “cold” and best use of “ooh wah” vocables you’ll hear all year. Pedal steel-aping guitar (or is it indeed a pedal steel?) combines with the virtually ever-present three-piece close harmony singing to create a ‘70s Americana sort of feel, and if Dodgy weren’t still as brimming with soulfulness as ever, they might not have pulled it off. Happily, it’s upstanding, and in a cool place.
“Tripped and Fell”
“Shadows” takes the Americana vibe to the next level, almost imploring you to line dance wistfully to Dylan-ly croaked lines like “Does it get harder as you get older?”, “Did It Have To” variously evokes Simon & Garfunkel and Phantom Power-era Super Furry Animals, Mathew Priest’s drums pounding and fluttering with such instinctive poise (as they do across the whole album), and “Waiting for the Sun” sounds like “Damaged” by Primal Scream infused with one of John Lennon’s gentler solo moments, the melodic phrasing of the word ‘sun’ in the chorus being especially swoonsome in this gorgeous little number.
Clark’s vocals sound cracked and weather-beaten like never before in the darkly pastoral “Raggedstone Hill”, complete with apocalyptic visions such as “The sun stops shining/Seasons fail to change” and a flute-assisted wig-out-of-sorts, while “Only a Heartbeat” sounds like a classic love song that you’d think had always exsisted; this is probably due in part to the chorus sounding a bit like “Here, There and Everywhere”, but it’s a magnificent thing in its own right, becoming increasingly stirring towards the end when shimmering strings are brought in and the vocals get reverbed into eternity.
This just leaves the lovely, twinkly vignette that is “Find a Place”, the ostensibly Tory-baiting “Back of You” (“High and mighty with your newfound crew/You crippled the last generation/So many indebted by so few/You’re stealing from the people/For this you want to be thanked/HMS Great Britan is stuck on the banks”) and the haunting/comforting “Happy Ending”, melancholic folk with a lighters-in-the-air chorus of “Only you can make this a happy ending/Only you can start and stop pretending/That it’s okay and it don’t need mending/Only you can make this a happy ending”.
That Dodgy should return after sixteen years with such a strong record is quite remarkable, so it is to be hoped that it is not their last.
In a few words… Pastoral, richly melodic, hamony-drenched folk-pop worthy (and then some) of Bella Union. Who’d-a thunk it?
Kind of like a cross between… The Band and Crosby, Stills and Nash