The Popguns “Sugar Kisses” (Matinée Recordings)
Prodigy R.I.P. Another artist we’ve grown up with. So many stone cold classics.
* * * * *
Um, yes, we’re BACK. And you’d better believe we’re still angry about the UK’s downward spiral, the continued descent of both public discourse and the economic forecast since the collective madness of one year ago. And frankly find it hard to see past that, past a country that will ever-refuse to admit it just made a stupid mistake (“oh could a joke ever go more wrong... and are you leaving just like that”), past a government of none-of-the-talents that’s about as 'strong and stable' as Ronan Point, and on top of that we find it so hard to grab the precious moments needed to appreciate the usual luscious panoply of absurdly ace records that 2017 has already delivered from every angle, what with work commitments and family and work and wanting to sleep too and work, and did we mention the nation being a total mess? But we expect you don’t need to hear about any of that. Sorry.
Luckily, it’s not just us who are BACK. For, re-emerging from the summery swells of the south coast, come those marvellous masters and mistresses of melody, the Popguns, purveyors of "Lovejunky" and "Still Waiting For The Winter", with their latest outing from their 21st century label home (ladies and gentlemen: now twenty years in showbusiness, the one, the only, the evergreen and ever-elegant Matinée Recordings of Santa Barbara). And that new 'guns long-player, “Sugar Kisses”, is ready to shack up with (sorry, 'snog') Eugenie & co in the Popguns section of your record collection (file between the Pop Group and Pop Threat, probably).
"Kisses" is a more muscular outing than the finely balanced textures of ‘proper’ LP number three, “Pop Fiction”: it boasts a sound more obviously rooted in the spirit of the Popguns' early records, but building on the momentum of “Pop Fiction” and the sonic diversity which that showcased. Yes, the rich tones of Wendy’s voice are still the icing on the cake: but the cake itself is made from toned and honed layers of *guitar* – fiery, vivacious, alive. It’s as if Simon and Wendy decided to get some of the ‘ballads’ out of the way on last year’s gorgeous Perfect English Weather album, so laying a trail for this return of the raw.
There are still a fair few flecks of light and shade, to be sure. There’s a pouting arrogance to the title track, a sassy and brazenly commercial number with ace backing coos and a serviceable bassline that’s lip-to-lip with the dancefloor, before the verses of the debonair “We Don’t Go Round There Anymore” mark the first appearance of the Blondie-via-Brighton American accent and phrasing that rears its head on a few tracks. Disconcerting as that is (since when was an offy a “liquor store”, this side of the Atlantic?) don’t let it distract you from the song, not least the killer chorus that eagerly trampolenes off the down-and-dirty verse.
Next come the brace of “So Long” – the preview single, albeit a single limited in physical form to a measly twenty copies – and “A Beaten Up Guitar”, and again these tunes are much more accelerator than brake, all heady swirls of thrilling fuzzfade POP. Only the gentle caress of “Out On The Highline” sees the pace drop; that reassuring lull in tempo you often get as half-time approaches.
On side two of the vinyl (that this should be on), and positively *launching* itself out of the blocks, is “A Dream Of Her Own”, one hell of a treat and a song which in a just universe would be the biggest of several hit singles on display. The cascading chorus really is a dream, and the guitars simply crackle with effervescent glee.
And then, after the brief respite of “The Outsider”, all seductive shimmer and slow waltz, come a rip-roaring trio of guitar-driven power pop janglers which provide as strong a finish as we’ve heard to any album in recent years: “Gene Machine”, “Fire Away” (perhaps the song which most faithfully mirrors their 80s/90s stompers, with bonus extra shouting in the background - well, it is set in a pub) and the knowing, somewhat triumphant playout “Finished With The Past”. MORE FIRE. There are fragments of these songs that could have come from the Wedding Present’s vast armoury, and I only hope that you lot have been reading this blog long enough to know that comparison, coming from us, is oceans away from damning with faint praise.
We did genuinely reckon that “Pop Fiction” was the best Popguns album yet, but we’re now having to revise that opinion: we now have a new ‘go to’ pop record, probably the best 'indie' album of 2017 so far. A winner by miles: Theresa, this is what a landslide looks like.