This is a review of "Energise" recorded by Shatner. The review was written by Rob Paul Chapman in 2005.
By all rights Shatner really ought to be extinct. Given that the Big Brothers who quietly go about the business of corrupting the nation’s youth decided to adopt the policies of Pol Pot somewhere around the late 90s, someone ought to have got round to sending Jim Bower & co to the glue factory by now.
Well, apart from the office junior at Thought Police Towers who’s in for a right rollicking when they find out that this one has slipped through the net, the rest of us can enjoy a real treat. Because although this isn’t meant to happen, four thirty-somethings who really ought to know better, have managed to craft a near-perfect pop gem.
Shatner – who amusingly declare themselves to be “yesterday’s band today” – were formed by singer-songwriter Jim Bower out of the ashes of several of Leeds’ nearly-bands including the critically celebrated and commercially ignored Freud Squad. However the twenty-odd years of getting close, but never quite breaking through into the popular consciousness clearly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm as Energise stands out as one of the most uplifting, not to mention unexpected, musical achievements of 2005 so far.
This is the kind of record that reminds you quite how much you like pop music. In a world so bewilderingly dominated with style over content it is easy to forget how much value used to be placed on simple concepts such as songwriting and musicality. It’s a shame then that this record is likely to remain unheard by a large proportion of Leeds, let alone the world.
Because despite the fact this is a record absolutely packed to the rafters with some glorious melodies, beautiful harmonies and an infectious self-depreciating humour, the fact remains that its architects are a bunch of thirty-somethings with distinctly average haircuts and not a lo-fi, garage-rock riff in sight.
Acknowledgement of this fact remains one of this album’s most endearing qualities. A wry, but warm cynicism pre-occupies the overall tone of the record, a bit like an uncle that likes the cache of being a grumpy old man, but talks to the dog and bounces the baby on their knee when they think the rest of the family isn’t looking. It’s this which gives this record such an interesting perspective as its one that is so rarely given a voice in popular culture.
The subject matters are hardly original, but rather than the typical angry-at-the-world vitriol that dominates the lyrics of most teenage or twenty-something bands on subjects such as politics, showbiz and art; Bower wraps some thought-provoking points up in light satire whilst acknowledging that for all the prophesising of doom, very few, least of all himself will do much about it. “I have seen the future, there’s some haircuts to beware of, some fashions to avoid, I’ll just say no I’d rather not,” he sings on I Have Seen The Future.
In fact it is hard to imagine how this record could possibly have been made by anyone younger. It shows a sense of maturity, not just in the writing, but also in the production, the likes of which you rarely see these days. For a start it’s perfectly judged at just under 45 minutes, never outstaying its welcome, also (at least for the first eight songs) it is consistently excellent with little to put between tracks. It fades a bit by the end, but by that stage the brain has already decided that this is a thoroughly likeable record and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter as much.
It also has a winning way of converting potential weaknesses into strengths. Bower is no great singer, coming over a little like a slightly strained and cracked Morrissey. But then again neither are Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello or Ian Dury all whose influence seems etched onto this disc, and as with the aforementioned artists, the lack of technical excellence only adds a human quality to the virtuosity of the songwriting. Given the exceptional standard of instrumental musicianship that stays mercifully unshowy, a flawless voice would be in danger of making this all sound a little processed and lacking in soul. As it is, it is judged perfectly.
Musically this covers a lot of ground, from the bouncy pop of Its Your Universe and the driving Buzzcockian Girls Like You to the more subtle crafted arrangements of Future Song and the sublime I Have Seen The Future, taking in the Dury-esque pub-punk-funk of Celebrity to the out-and-out ballads such as Ghost.
However, for all the technique, what stands out most of all is the ease in which Bower and on occasion the excellent keyboardist Chris Minz can pluck from thin air an instantly memorable melody as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
Still, perhaps on the strength of this alone there’s still hope. One of the most encouraging signs emerging from the latter part of last year was the determination shown by some of the city’s brightest talents to rescue the word ‘pop’ from its status as a dirty word synonymous with lowest common denominator manufactured pap and back to the forefront of cutting edge contemporary culture. (Names such as The Lodger and Being 747 spring immediately to mind).
Perhaps if the world can get over the age obsession that seems to set the barrier for entry into the music industry at 25, then there might be a way of getting this album onto the shelves of the masses. Although the idea of Bower & co on CD:UK just seems plain weird, the public has always had a bit of an affection for strong melody in a structure that it can get its head round.
You never know. Jarivs Cocker didn’t make the breakthrough into the mainstream until after he was thirty so perhaps there isn’t some great conspiracy. Perhaps the world isn’t against everyone over 25 and a glittering career at second, maybe third time of trying awaits. Perhaps it’s just that the thirty-something cynicism is contagious. Perhaps I ought to take this record off repeat from the stereo.
One more listen couldn’t hurt though could it?