When people think of “Manchester music”, the images that come to mind are powerful and unmistakeable. Gritty, shaggy-haired kids combining working class attitude with indie style and a backdrop of big guitar riffs. And, of course, a picture of a Gallagher brother swaggering down the streets of some major world city abusing journalists and throwing fingers to the cameras. You wouldn’t be stupid, then, for not realising that Blossoms come from the same musical tradition. Although there is something undeniably Mancunian about their spirit, and although they certainly have produced enough childish inter-band drama to rival the Oasis boys, their approach to music is fundamentally different to many of the acts that made their city famous.
Blossoms’ debut was an example of modern indie rock at perhaps its poppiest and catchiest. And that’s no insult, either. Their self-titled first album included hits like Charlemagne and Honey Sweet that were more than worthy of being referred to as “massive tunes”. In another era, where the rock band was more in vogue, Blossoms might have become the biggest band in the country with their ear for crossover hit potential. As it stands, though, the group became part of a wider scene of 2010s British rock music and gained devoted followers across the indie fanbase.
It is somewhat disappointing, then, that second outing Cool Like You doesn’t quite live up to the heights of the first record. Much of the album feels like the band is reaching towards creating the perfect anthemic indie song, but is falling short most of the time. Opening track There’s a Reason Why (I Never Returned Your Calls) comes close to the glory one feels the band were trying to create, with the right blend of melancholic melody and electronic swagger creating a fitting atmosphere to set the album off. So, too, does lead single I Can’t Stand It impress, bringing a more angsty and bitter tone with it. Both songs describe relationship struggles and emotional turmoil, and this is generally the band’s perpetual forte. A limited thematic and lyrical range is not, however, what ultimately lets this album down.
Several songs on this record appear to blend and blur together. Songs like the title track and Unfaithful are built upon what sound like mildly obnoxious disco beats. Meanwhile, a song like Stranger Still seems to meander in a kind of uninteresting downbeat synthpop. It’s not at all that these are examples of bad songwriting, nor is it that display bad musicianship. But these album tracks do not capture the attention in the same way as the bigger singles would. And, in many ways, one of the more frustrating things about Blossoms is their reluctance to actually behave like a rock band. Despite flying the flag for “guitar bands” nation-wide, trying to recognise a noticeable guitar riff in many Blossoms songs is far from an easy task. That’s fine when, as the band sometimes accomplishes, the melodies and song structures themselves are bold and attention grabbing. The path of a “pop rock” band is well trodden and well respected, as established acts like Coldplay and U2 have proven. But when the material doesn’t stick in the brain, it doesn’t work. I am left sometimes wishing that Blossoms would just come through with a rockier or punkier edge, like several of their contemporaries, just to pull me into the record more.
The final few tracks of Cool Like You, then, did please me for those exact reasons. I Just Imagined You is driven by a distorted, almost digitised guitar riff that feels influenced by the punk sound that really made indie rock exciting. In the same vein, Giving Up the Ghost commands its audience with a soaring and anthemic rock sound that delivers in a way that the more understated first half of the album did not. Love Talk, the closing track, even displays the capability that Blossoms have to make a more electronic, heart-felt ballad without having to introduce large guitar lines and noise. I am left, once again, not doubting that Blossoms are talented musicians, but feeling as if they’ve just missed the mark a bit. Some tracks on this album are hits, others are misses, and it’s a bit of a shame.
Blossoms, as a band, display an ambition and an attitude that reflects a desire to become Britain’s leading contemporary rock band. Cool Like You, however, proves that they have a bit more work to do before they can realise that ambition. Where their cousins like Wolf Alice and Royal Blood are creating fully formed alt-rock classics of the modern era, Blossoms don’t yet appear to have the knowledge to jump from hitmakers to a proper album-orientated group.