UK group The Indelicates are that most endangered of species — a band with intention. They defy the current notion that rock and roll songs should be about, y’know, whatever you want them to be about. Every song on their first full-length album American Demo was a thesis, a statement of purpose from the band’s principal songwriters and vocalists, Simon and Julia Indelicate. And the same holds true of Songs For Swinging Lovers, their second album, released yesterday via their new net label, Corporate Records. (More about that in a moment.) It’s a polemic against stupidity, complacency and venality as it exists in Great Britain circa 2010. And it’s very, very clever — another adjective that doesn’t get bandied about often these days.
It was clear with American Demo that The Indelicates were acolytes at the temple of Luke Haines and his various projects (The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder); while that’s still evident here, they also move into more expansive sonic territory, channeling Brecht, Village Green-era Kinks and Carter The Unstoppable Machine in equal measure. Much of the band’s distinctive sound is formed by the back-and-forth between Julia’s lovely and almost formal soprano and Simon’s rasping, sneering baritone, which recalls Haines and Carter USM’s Jim Bob Morrison. In terms of production, Songs is a bit more ambitious than American Demo, and it pays off. All of the members are extremely competent musicians, and every song is arranged with the care of a film score. It would be interesting, though, to hear the band expand upon their sound a bit — to mine slightly more exotic territory.
Really, though, the highlight of Songs For Swinging Lyrics are the vicious, cruel and utterly hilarious lyrics, credited to both Simon and Julia. These aren’t feel-good tunes, unless (like me) you’re the kind of person who would be cheerful at the burning of Rome. “Hey doc, take a knife to me, scar my snatch into a smile,” sings Julia on “Flesh”. “Strip me and dissect me, take my tears and tap my bile…Beauty isn’t truth, it’s just youth and it’s adaptive, and it’s elastic.” This is confrontational music, asking questions and rubbing the listener’s nose (or ears) in the hideousness of the world we’ve made.
There isn’t really a context for The Indelicates right now. Indie music is in love with the superficial now, with the pure pop masterpiece. Songs For Swinging Lovers is pop music on its surface, but it’s not anything The Kids are going to be dancing to in the discos any time soon. Not that The Indelicates mind — they hate the kids. They seem less interested in making tons of money and getting on MTV than in using their considerable talent to start cultural fires.
One of those fires, in fact, is aimed at the traditional record industry. The Indelicates have created a net label called Corporate Records, which any band can use as a platform for releasing their own work, for whatever price they choose. You can buy Songs For Swinging Lovers from Corporate for whatever you feel the album is worth.
This is a divisive sort of record. You’ll either love it or hate it. And I suspect that’s just the way The Indelicates like it.