It would be a monumental shame were Wokingham alt. rock rioters The Cooper Temple Clause best remembered for bassist Didz Hammond’s unlikeliest of defections to join Carl Barât’s reprehensibly scraggy Dirty Pretty Things. For in but a few short years around the turn of the 21st century, the band released more seminal records than others do in decades: See This Through and Leave, an inspirational racket that wasn’t without its moments of visceral beauty, injected some much-needed vim into an otherwise dreary 2002 British musical landscape overrun with spunky punk charlatans, while Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose of the ensuing year did exactly as its title suggested. The Cooper Temple Clause, from an at least subjective perspective, burnt out all too soon, although from the ashes here arises less a phoenix, than Red Kite.
Daniel Fisher, the band’s onetime guitarist, is the proverbial wind beneath Red Kite’s wings, début full-length Songs for Crow dedicated to the memory of father, Michael Gerard Fisher. And so, before even a solitary one of The Gathering Storm’s acoustic twangs have been thrummed, we know that none of the intense passion to have raged within the likes of See This Through and Leave has diminished in the slightest. Indeed, so personal a work does Songs for Crow seem that the sense of loss is lovably palpable almost from the off. “Did you wait for the feeling/ Did you wait for the gathering storm?/ I was told this would happen/ I’ve been caught up in this pattern before” Fisher begins, his timbre doleful as the music is spartan. But, inferred in its title and inspired by such insistent strums, you can’t help but itch for a scratchy, electric outburst. First, we get less an onslaught, and more the sort of pianistic plod anticipated of Embrace. Then, Paul Glover and Jon Cornwell’s bass drums kick in, powering lyrics of a time “ten years ago when the fabric first tore”, Daniel candidly admitting: “I was born to be trouble/ I was born to do damage untold.” As such, the only discordance sensed thus far is that which differentiates its music from his lyrics. Henceforth, we hear tumultuous bass combine with blurts of tempestuous brass courtesy of Nick Willes, The Gathering Storm, well, gathering strength, before it breaks down again, Fisher woefully conceding: “Soon the trees with their shaking will come quaking, will come crashing to the floor.” It makes for a neat kind of musical onomatopoeia, if it may lack the vibrant animation of, say, The Same Mistakes. But that was “ten years ago”, and the fabric hasn’t by now been torn as much as it has been totally shredded. And as Fisher starts to stitch things back together again, this beginning is nothing if not tremendously propitious.
So too Montreal, with its natty guitar lines and terse snares, makes for a punchy, seemingly Placebo-inspired pièce de résistance. (Incidentally, The Cooper Temple Clause’s erstwhile lead vocalist, Tom Bellamy, now fronts Losers, whose cover of Jane’s Addiction’s Summertime Rolls in fact featured Brian Molko. But this is all relatively tangential stuff.) “You’ve been beat on and busted up inside/ Now you got a wall needs breaking through/ But you’ve got a ten-tonne hammer now/ You’ve got a heart that’s not made of cold black stone like you make out sometimes” Daniel keens, at last carving out his lyrical crux and, as his words fall elegantly about twinkling xylophones and coruscating guitars, every glittery bit of it slots into place. This is what so many must hear in Mumford & Sons when Marcus rolls away that sodding stone, and the Hollywood Bowl squeals as one. But instead of triumph, the track is laced with regret, Fisher continuing: “I remember how it went/ I stopped talking to you/ You stopped talking to me/ When we were twenty-three/ You drifted to the coast/ I took off for the sea/ We thought that was the end/ Of what was you and me.” It’s rueful, deeply reverential stuff, this public confession, Daniel at last accepting: “Well, I was out of line/ I never meant to bail/ I should’ve watched the waters when your ship was setting sail/ I guess I should’ve known that I’d wind up on my own/ This is an apology for the man I couldn’t be/ Back when we were twenty-three.” Equal parts Arcade Fire and Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose’s Blind Pilots, it’s a beautiful invitation “to meet me in Montreal” that even a completely chargrilled heart would fail to refuse.
Elsewhere however, Daniel’s proposals can prove a little less alluring: with its driving, if mildly humdrum intensities, skipping hi-hats and lyrics of “I know I’ll see out my life with you”, Poltergeist is a bit of an indie-by-numbers blip. Bassist Laura Heggarty’s tender vocal intervention may be a slight delight, but its drums are flat and hefty, sounding as though they’ve been recorded in a pebbly car park. (Produced, engineered and even mixed by Bellamy, you wonder as to whether performing the likes of A.I.M. and Been Training Dogs nightly impacted pretty heavily upon both his and Fisher’s hearing.) And so too the spangly Spanish Courtyard doubtless could have done with a better restoration, or gone without inclusion altogether, Fisher again conforming to many a tedious indie trope of ’03. “If you’re leaving, so am I/ I’ll never make this story mine/ We always knew I’d let you down/ And so you left me to figure it out” he recalls mournfully, but when stripped of the musical innovation that perpetuated the yearning meaning beyond Montreal, the song ends up sounding not altogether dissimilar to a Milburn B-side.
Lulling acoustic numbers, such as the ambling Saddle Up, Son, do Daniel few favours either, the Ted Hughes-indebted lyric: “Saddle up son, and carry that fire/ Mama needs leading through that awful mire” laid drastically bare by the song’s lack of instrumental scaffolding. The carny Calliope meanwhile sounds more like a recalcitrant Brighton merry-go-round than it does a credible whirl through oddly honky-tonk skronk. If nothing else, it’s violently original, although unfortunately this one never quite works as you feel it should.
But that’s not to suggest that Songs for Crow is drab as an unforgivingly wintry weekend down beside the seaside – anything but. In keeping with The Cooper Temple Clause’s recurrent wont to end their recordings with a rousing climax, clocking in at 564 seconds, No Painter of Note is afforded the time and space to evolve into a beguiling portrait of emancipatory brilliance. Similarly Red Blooded Males, all dingy guitars and menacing chord progressions, makes for an appositely punitive penultimate, Fisher taking aim at the boorish Neanderthals that stalk town centres on weekends nationwide. “Turning vermin and they’re breeding now”, suburban, even generational disaffection resurfaces in earnest, and to astonishing impact. And then there’s Streetlights – a scintillating reminiscence of Mew’s Comforting Sounds, it proves impactful as that “ten-tonne hammer” aforesaid to the head. “Easy come; easy go/ Stick to what you know” Daniel morosely reckons, although this seems the bona fide sound of progress. For if Fisher may admit to having “given up on working with wood/ Stick to melting steel down instead”, while the track may lack that igneous vigour of, say, Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose, this more organic MO is no less impressive. And although a few of the irons here comprised could have benefitted from a little more time in the fire, Fisher’s brand still glows brighter than most.
Released: November 5th, 2013 [The Shipping Forecast]