The Bluetones, Cardiff Barfly, 22nd September
Ten years ago a record was released that, despite debuting at Number One in the album charts, remains criminally overlooked in both discussions of the Britpop era and recent British music history. Cruely dismissed upon release as being 'sub-Stone Roses', at a time when The Stone Roses had taken about five years to decide that a) they thought they could be Led Zeppelin and b) they all hated each others guts, this record featured a picture of that eternally flightless bird, the peacock, on it's front cover: an image that captured the tone of the whole album. It was an album for all those who didn't get the girl, those who couldn't find the right words to say to that girl, those who had been trodden on by the world (including those closest to them) and were quietly, poetically, plotting their revenge despite knowing that they'd never get it. It was an album for those who didn't want to pretend they were a cockney, who didn't have the wit and irony to celebrate and criticise the culture they found themselves in, and who had grown tired of the bickering, drug-taking Gallaghers, partly hollowed by realising that there was no meaning behind what a 'Champagne Supernova' actually was. It was a record for the nervy guy in the corner who was liked but never deemed that important. Nonetheless, this was a record of hope, as encapsulated by it's title, 'Expecting to Fly', captured perfectly in that front cover image image, and transmitted through the lyrics and music.
It's now ten years since that record, and whilst all the other bands mentioned above have either come and gone, disappeared up their own artistic anal passages, or become comedic parodies of themselves, The Bluetones remain. They never conquered the world, they never sold millions of records. In short, they became that image that graced their debut album sleeve: an animal that, despite it's aspirations otherwise, is often forgotten although fondly recalled, and never soared to the heights that perhaps it'd imagined.
What they did get was a dedicated fanbase. This is demonstrated by the sold-out audience of devoted followers of the Blue Army gathered together on this bright-yet-cold Cardiff evening, who are treated to a run through of a the old classics ('Slight Return', 'Soloman Bites the Worm), fan favourites ('The Fountainhead') and slightly obscure B-Sides ('Blue') mixed with new material from their forthcoming album, simply entitled The Bluetones. Does everyone enjoy it? Hell yes! Whilst the biggest cheers are reserved for the hits, all material is well recieved and the band clearly enjoy being back together and playing live again. What is remarkable about The Bluetones is how little they seem to have aged over the past ten years, for whilst Scott has grown himself a beard, and Eds has lost a bit of hair, Mark and Adam still look as fresh-faced as they did when they could still get in the pages of the NME.
The new material demonstrates a return to their jangly, reflective, early work, with 'Surrendered' demonstrating this well, whilst new single 'My Neighbour's House' is a tour de force through harmonious, melodic indie-pop. We get the usual random facts attached to certain songs that we've come to expect over the years ('Slight Return' is introduced as being 'the cabbies favourite'), and it all rounds off with the kind of song that sums up The Bluetones' career, 'If...'. With every new album you momentarily wonder 'if' this is going to finally be the time that it all clicks for them. However, part of you melancholically realises that, deep down, they're forever going to remain as grounded, and yet loved, as that flightless bird. Hopefully though, they'll still be around in another ten years though.