The Wind-Up Birds – ‘The Land’ (Sturdy Records)
The finest Red Riding quartet since David Peace return to the fray after a while away with their sterling debut platter, and it’s a ripper. The Wind-Up Birds have been serenading us here at trakMARX for the best part of the last twelve months. Seemingly ignorant to a raft of earlier releases from the band, our ears were finally set alight by the rogue majesty of 2011’s ‘Meet Me At The Depot’/’Popman’ 45, sending us scuttling back into the past in search of former gems such as ‘Tyre Fire’ and ‘Courage, For Tomorrow Will Be Worse’ like a team of covert bin men in ski masks and tiger stripes perusing the detritus of popular culture for the faintest of sparks. A year on down the branch line, ‘The Land’ is finally with us, and the superlatives can flow like Double Diamond.
Having recently basked in the glory of John Cooper Clarke live, the timing of this contemporary broadside of gruff Northern humour has a poetic sense of synchronicity about it. To argue the case that TWUB possess a comparable way with words is not too grand a claim. They’ve been washing their thesaurus in a similar kitchen sink to the Bard of Salford, despite the generations betwixt them. Just about everything else might have changed in the interim, but sardonic wit is still sardonic wit, whichever charity shop suit you dress it up in.
‘The Land’ opens with TWUB’s signature sound in full effect on the frankly observational ‘Good Shop Shuts’: “The independent record shop is rolling in gold pieces/They’re queuing round the corner for the more obscure releases”. Indeed! The sound is taut, the energy apparent, the pace frantic, the sum of TWUB’s parts have expanded exponentially, they come on like a band who’ve been honing their craft diligently in rehearsal rooms heated by electric fires without a current PAT test certificate.
Recent 45 ‘Cross Country’ maintains said pace, one that surely can’t be maintained over long distances? Unsurprisingly, the band slow up for a crafty fag behind the bike sheds on ‘There Won’t Always Be An England’, a rueful perambulation, a rural rumination, pregnant with menace, marinated in essence of cello, a post-war waltz for a dysfunctional dance floor. A forceful bass line walks ‘Being Dramatic’ up to the bar for a livener with one arm behind its back, and the pace picks up once again. The putative side one’s closer ‘Nostalgia For . . .’ covers several thematic miles in its 7-minutes and 13-seconds to forge a mannerist canvas of expressive intent. Like the Blue Aeroplanes on Tramadol, this spoken-word exercise offers the usual excuses before summarizing: “And you wonder why I’m so fucked up?” Sorry. Soz.
Our conceptual second side opens in French with a jaunty: “Un, deux, un, deux, trios, quatre”, and ‘Wonder St’ is upon us. The pace has quickened again, but there’s still no necessity for Ventolin. These TWUB boys are fit. All that training has been rewarded with impressive levels of stamina. ‘No People, Just Cutouts’ is swelled chorally through the addition of guest vocals from James Smith of Post War Glamour Girls. ‘Escape From New Yorkshire’ reminds us of long lost Mid-Warks popsters, The Ideal Husbands. The Mid-Warks spectre haunts further, throwing The Shapes into the Buzzcockian sensibilities of the aforementioned ‘Popman’. We recently asked TWUB’s Ben Dawson why the band had overlooked ‘Meet Me At The Depot’ in favour of ‘Popman’. We said we found that odd. Ben said: “’Popman’ seemed to fit the album better than ‘Depot’, and none of us liked that version we recorded. Yeah, we’re odd.” Previous single ‘Tyre Fire’ is resurrected in all its glory for the LP’s penultimate title, which is a really good idea, as it’s one of TWUB’s very best outfits. The album duly climaxes in titular fashion with a plaintive and melancholic air, echoing the moors of Marr’s ‘Suffer Little Children’ in its fragility.
No one sounds more traditionally English than The Wind-Up Birds, circa 2012. As a nation, we seem to have lost the very essence of anything that once made us great. The majority of mainstream-worrying combos out there in NMEland resemble nothing more than service industry clones in comparison. Financial services. Indebted to everything and anything that has come before them. No means of repaying their outstanding loans. No cultural capital of their own to invest. Subsequently, their homes are in constant danger of repossession. TWUB represent something resolutely more solid: a robust manufacturing concern capable of producing goods of quality, goods of substance.
In conclusion, ‘The Land’ represents an industrial revolution in the art of popular song. TWUB sound like TWUB, and no one else, and that in itself is a major achievement in this disapproving, disappointing, disappearing world.