Ever since the death of indie-rock in the mainstream (circa 2009), the hounds of the British music press have been on the hunt for the band that will breathe new life into guitar music. This has seen bands such as The Vaccines, Palma Violets, and Viva Brother (if you don’t know who they are, that is exactly my point) being given the kiss of death, that is to be hyped up as “the next big thing”. What this does is burden bands with having to carry the heavy cross of the legacy of rock music, when in actual fact all they are doing is writing catchy songs about girls and fun. Palma Violets largely shook-off the “overhyped debut” syndrome by producing a cacophonous snapshot of a live band along with the promise that half of the band’s appeal was going to their gig. For album number two, they’re avoiding “difficult second album” syndrome all together by not even attempting to evolve or reinvent. It’s one way to avoid losing the hype game – by not playing the game at all and having some balls-up fun with your instruments instead.
The record starts with a feeble, scratchy, disharmonious rendition of 1951 chart hit Sweet Violets, semi-whispered in the way a mate would annoyingly wake you after a night out, probably with alcohol still in his system. We are then hit by the three stomp-y chords of Hollywood amidst meows and howls. It’s a half-surf rock, half-rockabilly piece of nonsensical fun with virtually no lyrics and some cowbell for good measure. Impromptu howling and harmonising aplenty, the over-the-top ending foretells the mood of the album – “Don’t expect anything serious. Do expect to enjoy yourself’. Girl, You Couldn’t Do Much Better On The Beach goes by the same philosophy and sounds like a teenaged Clash, complete with cartoonish “La la la’s” and “Na na na’s”, but in the way that isn’t offensive, but endearing.
As their comeback single, Danger in the Club is worth noting as a step forward for the band. It opens with a merry melody on guitar that sounds like a call-to-arms on a pirate ship. The driving bass and the gallop of the drums mimic boozy bravado and are followed by Sam Fryer singing over a purring, colourful organ about being a man and recalling the days wasted loving some “pissed up slapper”; he pondering accusatorily “where were you when I needed you” and is met by the wordless shanty-chanting of his band mates. They take you from ominous ritual hymns to a happy “Ah’s”, to a delirious harmonica solo among the brewing riot, to finally wrong-foot you again with an impossibly simple guitar solo which sets it all off again. Amidst the chaos, one hears deliriously yelled commands, which gives you the feeling they’re coming up with ideas on the spot. Finally, they strip everything away as Sam emerges, doe-eyed, declaring in beautiful mock-ney accent “We could go outside / I fink it’s stopped raining”, painting the picture of the wobbly, stumble back home with only a piercing hangover and the sound of birds as company. It’s their most vivid and complete song yet.
My personal highlight of the album is The Jacket Song, an exceptionally British, loose guitar waltz which upon its first listen harks back to Libertines-era zeitgeist: it’s a change of pace in the album, a respite from the debauchery, and a moment of reflection – which is precisely what Radio America did for Up The Bracket. Though it seems futile to keep up the comparisons to The Clash and The Libertines, who themselves have been accused of ripping off Joe Strummer under Mick Jones’s patronage, this type of pastiche seems to provide a stripped-back opportunity to appreciate Palma Violets’ song-writing. Fryer may be apologising to his partner in crime, the jacket, for marginalising it after years together. Look into the lyrics further and he might be narrating a love story between the jacket and its own lover, the “perfect seam-lined dress”, and apologising for the way he treated the dress during a passionate exchange with its wearer. Look into it further still and it may all be a metaphor for taking his friendships for granted after falling in love with a girl. It’s their most interesting leap forward in terms of lyricism.
Coming Over To My Place, is an 80s-influenced, ambivalent love song in which Sam begs “Don’t try to kiss me / You do it every time” but lays down the mantra “I would rather die being in love”. It’s teenage angst – not of the reckless abandon kind, but that of indecision. Gout! Gang! Go! brings back the energy by sporting an impressive indie-pop bass line and Strokes-esque danceability. Walking Home is charming and dandy, relishing in its miserable situation by relying heavily and knowingly on well-worn clichés. Though it was not their intention, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels between Peter and the Gun and Peter by Jamie T, released last autumn telling the tail of his psychotic, hedonistic, amoral alter-ego – a stone’s throw away from the subject of the Violets’ song. Despite this, the song carries its own, with an alienated organ introduction that quickly descends into the dark side of the street, ready to mug you, then throw you on a bonfire, all whilst dancing next to it. After all its twists and turns, it is impossible not to sing along to, cementing Peter’s membership of the club of mythological, larger-than-life characters in Palma Violets’ world, the likes of which include Tom the Drum and Johnny Bagga Donuts. English Tongue wraps proceedings up with an unrefined, bread-and-butter, pub-rock anthem, which Chilly and Sam admit to only have written the day before the deadline of their album. By the sound of it, they are absolutely fucked on larger by this point, singing arm-in-arm on tables as the last-orders bell rings. But for all of its lack of sophistication, and much like the entire album, it displays so much likability and youthful abandon that it is impossible to dislike.
It would be wrong and even foolish to assess this album in the same way one would review any other album – those perfected pieces of music that have been meticulously recorded, rehearsed, and ripped from all its life and purpose, which in the case of rock and roll, has always been and will always be to make the kids dance, fall in love, make awful mistakes and dance it off again. This is an album of fun, but one that will never be able to show its true colours unless its enjoyed live, with pints flying overhead, with best friends mouthing the words an inch from each other’s faces, with girls and boys kissing for the first time, and with four boys barely in their 20’s having more fun than the room put together, in total, euphoric disbelief that they are able to play the kind of music that makes people feel.