Review: Cast – Troubled Times
Published on March 7th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
John Power was in ebullient mood when we interviewed him last month, defiantly declaring: “I think we’re better musically than we were; I’m singing better, the band are playing better, and I think that’s the way it’s meant to happen, isn’t it? Bands are supposed to get better with age, like a wine.” On some counts he is right, but Troubled Times, the Liverpudlians’ first studio album in eleven years, feels like an opportunity missed for a head-turning reinvention.
There is no shortage of quality material here, but the bold leap forward taken on 1999’s Magic Hour – and to a certain extent on 2001’s pleasingly loopy (in both senses of the word) Beetroot – seems to count for little with an album that’s all too reconcilable with the Cast of All Change. Perhaps that’s owing to the fact that both records share a John Leckie production, perhaps their recent All Change 15th anniversary live shows dictated the play, perhaps they just felt like making this kind of album. After all, why shouldn’t a band be allowed to go back to their roots every now and then?
Opener “Bow Down” kicks off with an oh-so-Cast exhortation of “where is the love that’s all around?”, but comes storming back with an irresistibly catchy chorus, before the gleaming, twiddly lead guitar lick of “Troubled Thoughts” paves the way for such ruminations as “No matter how hard I try/I just can’t seem to sleep at night/Troubled thoughts are what you find/When we’re caught up in troubled times”. Two recurring themes are introduced here: conscientious, tempestuous lyricism, and Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson’s liquid gold lead guitar lines.
“See That Girl”
“The Sky’s Got a Gaping Hole” scores no points for subtlety with “The temperature gauge is up/And the oceans look like they’re fucked/…And there’s cracks in the ice cap, Jack”, but it does have a nice, bluesy guitar wail in its chorus; “See That Girl” sounds like a cross between “There She Goes” and “Elephant Stone”, being both every bit as lovely as that sounds and a splendid setting for Power’s best singing to date, tenderer and more expressive than ever, yet still equipped with a satisfying rasp.
Elsewhere, “Silver and Gold” displays a Coral-y side (the band, not the bookies), “A Boy Like Me” could have sat proudly in Magic Hour, “Time Bomb” is reminiscent of Waterpistol-era Shack and closer “Tear it Apart All Over Again” boasts an authoritative swagger and stonking chord progression, albeit more so in its verse than its chorus.
It is “Brother Fighting Brother” though that feels most like the album’s centrepiece, for here we find Power singing in an unfamiliar low register that is actually rather becoming of him; in fact, the verse sounds closer than Cast have got before to sounding like a classic soul protest song. “Simple little things/So easy to see/Have somehow become lost/Behind bureaucracy/That’s just what they want/With people to think/To think they’ve got it made/And just forget about this thing”; this is clearly the most confrontational set of lyrics on an album full of them, and it’s a fine song to boot.
The thing is though, “Brother Fighting Brother” ends with a repeated refrain of “it’s not about to change”, a surely intentional summation of this album’s weakness. It’s solid and mature, like a really good cheddar, but there’s nothing on here that quite manages to make you sit up and take notice the way “Beat Mama” and “Desert Drought” did. Strong set of psych-tinged Scouse-pop nonetheless.
Rocksucker says: Seven-and-a-half Quails out of Ten!
Cast’s fifth album Troubled Times is out now, and they shall play the following UK dates in March and April 2012 :
Thu 29th Newcastle O2 Academy
Fri 30th Glasgow 02 Academy
Sat 31st Liverpool University
Sun 1st Leamington Spa Assembly
Tue 3rd Cambridge Junction
Wed 4th Manchester Academy
Thu 5th Birmingham 02 Academy
Fri 6th London 02 Shepherds Bush Empire
The band’s official website casttour.com has links on its homepage for buying tickets.