Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Popguns “Lovejunky” (Matinée Recordings)

Essentially, every band in history whose members are still alive has now reformed. Turned out that even the Stone Roses could find “reconcilable differences”, given appropriate (cough*financial*cough) incentives. When it comes to stubborn refusals to bow to public demand and regroup, we’re pretty much down to the fairly mighty triumvirate of the Jam, the Smiths and Bogshed (now that would be a bill to savour).

There are pros and cons to the other 76,000,000 combos now being officially *BACK*. The downside is that barrels are being scraped and lilies are being gilded on an almost industrial scale, as out-of-town arenas flood with ragged troubadors performing greatest hits sets at £100 a throw, all the while stealing vital limelight from newer and hungrier talent. But there are upsides, too, thanks to the better groups, those who aren’t just resurfacing in order to milk the diehards for a second time, those for whom the chance of reunion has granted a new lease of life. And so it is for Brighton’s Popguns, who follow a well-received live return with a new 7” single courtesy of our friends across the water in Santa Barbara, a single that effortlessly reconstructs the shimmering song structures of porky prime Popguns back in the day; that in doing so takes some of us, of a certain age, back to the very uncertain time of our teenage years…

Us boys were split pretty much down the middle. In the first or second years of big school, the great divide was broadly between whether you played football at break time, or played Dungeons & Dragons instead. By the sixth form though, both jumpers for goalposts and many-sided dice had been jettisoned, for the lure of music proved too much, and with it came a new schism – basically, whether you were “indie”, or whether you were… Deacon Blue and T’Pau. Within the former camp, the Popguns were surprisingly popular – I say “surprisingly” not because they weren’t ace, but because despite being a band who never grazed the hallowed top 75, there were a good half-dozen of us who bought all their records - and a few more who taped them off us (shhh) - which put them probably only behind the Stone Roses, Depeche Mode and the Wedding Present in popularity (um, it was a broad church). The upshot of this was that when the Popguns played the Y Club, it would have been treated as an epiphany, and an admiring phalanx of local schoolboys would doggedly trail there to watch, cradling cider and blackcurrant and a distant, nagging fear of A-levels.

So this new single hoves benignly into view, and although this is a cliché which we yearn to avoid, it’s thoroughly necessary on this occasion: it’s as if they’d never been away. As if the years from your own schooldays to your kids’ schooldays had somehow never happened, and you were still… oh, I don’t know, getting on the bus with the “Still A World Away” 12” in a carrier bag, ready to enthuse and share by the time you made it to the playground; or getting an earful off your mum for turning the volume up to 11 for the lustrous closing minute or so of “Someone You Love”; or scribbling “Popguns - Landslide” on the postcard of your personal top 3 that you’d wing off to Peel around the start of Advent (I used my very neatest handwriting, given who I was sending it to, although I am bound to confess that I had “Sensitive” as my no.1).

“Lovejunky” the song rings with the same dapper verses and the same triumphant-sounding choruses as the Popguns’ earlier suite of singles (with which we're intimately acquainted; there was a summer when a much-prized copy of “Eugenie” span near-endlessly on the CD player), Wendy singing with a familiar conviction and verve over the usual melodic yet ripplingly-muscled guitar lines. The song is all about coming back for more, and feels as if it's about the band reforming, about their need to revisit past experiences and perhaps taste new ones too. The arrangement is just the ticket, especially after the second chorus yields to another insistent guitar part and the hooks, emotions and extra vocal lines dance, cascade and crash for a glorious finale. As a taster for the imminent album, the smartly-titled comeback “Pop Fiction”, the song sets precisely the right tone.

“Long Way To Fall”, the second tune, is nearly as good; definitely A-side quality too. This time, the verse positively rattles away, led by a fearless and feral bassline, as Wendy pours almost joyful scorn on the protagonist before another big chorus spirals up from the horizon to envelop said protagonist completely. Mind you, the third and final track on the EP changes tack entirely: “Home Late” is a soft and mellow vignette, a wonderfully evocative lyric sheltering under the awnings as drizzly night falls, and with the sweetest of backing vocals. The confident shift in gear – from barnstormery to balladry, if you like - bodes well for that pending LP. So we smile, and slip the record back into its sleeve. Even in our most vividly retro dreams we hadn’t necessarily seen a new 7” by the Popguns coming, least of all on one of our favourite 21st century record labels.

“Lovejunky, are you going out tonight?”

The single’s still going round in our heads. But outside, this weather’s getting ever-greyer and ever-wetter. The leaves that had fallen have turned from slippery yellow on rain-specked pavements to half-swept sludge and mud. There’s no way we’re going out tonight, Wendy.

But we do have plans for the coming weekend. Thought we’d treat ourselves, in our dotage. For we plan to see a band… some band called the Popguns. Apparently they’ve reformed, you know. The cider and black’s on me.