Music Reviews
Complete Surrender

Slow Club Complete Surrender

(Caroline International) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Given how much our musical tastes change and develop as fans and listeners the older and – theoretically – wiser we get, it’s frustrating how content some artists seem to be to repeatedly plough the same furrow. There are obviously reasons for this, from not wanting to alienate a loyal audience, to fear, to deciding that’s the best way to make cold, hard cash, but if we advance, surely we want our bands to as well? It was pointed out to me this week that One Direction have been together for four years, which is the same amount of time it took The Beatles to get from Love Me Do to Strawberry Fields Forever. It may not be a precise like-for-like comparison but it does point towards a larger trend about musicians seemingly accepting stasis.

Therefore, when a band does buck this trend, they should be cut some slack regardless of the results. Upon reviewing Slow Club’s second album, Paradise, back in 2011, I remarked that the duo of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor had eschewed the gentle, folky sound of their debut, Yeah So, for a significantly beefed up sound. With Complete Surrender, they’ve continued their musical education, and are now a slick, professional band with great songs and an astonishing way with a melody. Slow Club used to be dogged by accusations of being too twee, but it’s now difficult to think of a more unsuitable adjective for them.

The melodies and hooks that pepper Complete Surrender have an extraordinary quality. They may not be catchy in the traditional sense, in that you might not find yourself humming them whilst waiting for the bus, but they feel so incredibly natural. Once heard, it’s as if they’ve always existed, and they’re so simple yet effective, it’s difficult to believe they haven’t been written before.

The most easy and potent of all the melodies here is perhaps the gorgeous phrasing that underpins the chorus of the stunning ballad, Not Mine To Love. Taylor takes lead vocals on this track, and plays the other woman, pining over the man that she knows will never leave his partner, despite his assertions to the contrary. It’s a heart-rending tale, as Taylor can’t quite bring herself to admit the futility of the situation despite his evasion tactics (“You say you’re confused / But you look fine”), her own guilt (“I’m making it hard for you to live the life you choose”) and the lack of future prospects (“I’m making plans that aren’t mine to make”). It’s proper grown-up music, the kind of thing the excitable ingénues of Yeah So would never have even considered, yet it’s arguably the greatest song Slow Club have ever written. There’s a grandiose arrangement, strings placed at the ideal moments to heighten the emotion, and Taylor’s vocal has just as much depth and complexity as the lyrics. It harks back to a 1960s siren’s ballad and had it been sung by Dusty Springfield half a century or so ago, it would still be revered as a classic today.

It’s tempting to think of Not Mine To Love as a companion piece to the song that precedes it, Suffering Me, Suffering You. Whilst on Not Mine To Love, Taylor is the third person in a couple, in Suffering Me, Suffering You, she’s the wronged partner, powerless as infidelity causes her relationship to crumble. However, whilst Not Mine To Love has a slow lilt, Suffering Me, Suffering You sees Slow Club really flex their musical muscles, as they add horns and a Northern Soul stomp to their sound. It’s the clearest indication yet of how far they’ve progressed, and it certainly marks them out as anomalies in the current indie scene.

Complete Surrender follows this template of splitting between ballads and more uptempo numbers throughout. The title track is a welcome blast of energy with a slinky feel that in a different climate could, and perhaps should, be a major chart hit. Number One is the strongest of the remaining ballads; a mournful lament made of little more than vocals and repeated piano chords. Watson feels isolation in an unedifying world, but concludes that just like the rest of us, he has neither the strength nor the force of will to fight it (“Blue blood runs out into the street / TV shows rewarding treachery / I’m watching now and I will be the same time next week”).

Given that the ballads deal with difficult emotions and the more uplifting songs actually seem to be using the music as a mask to hide feelings of loss and disappointment, you can’t help but feel Slow Club must have had a rum couple of years personally. There’s a cathartic feel to Complete Surrender, as if – hopefully – they’ve turned the corner and have learned to come to terms with the events that have unfolded, and look back at them in a more objective way. There are still some emotions that are clearly raw though, as the crashing cymbals and howling vocals towards the climax of Everything Is New demonstrate.

This review may have been little but effusive praise thus far, but there’s not a blue circle around the number ten next to the album cover above. That’s because, despite the exemplary quality of many of the tracks, there are some real missteps, and songs that add nothing to the album as a whole. Taylor’s voice may be largely incredible, in fact, she’s surely one of the best vocalists around today, but The Queen’s Nose feels like her trying to belt out the song as loud as possible without any consideration for subtlety or nuance. The breezy electro-pop of The Pieces feels like lightweight filler, and the cumbersomely-titled Dependable People And Things That I’m Sure Of is lyrically trite, as if Slow Club have sought solace in a rhyming dictionary. Furthermore, the less said about hidden track (ugh), Fucking Feelings, the better.

All of which means it’s difficult to know what to make of Complete Surrender. There are at least five tracks here which are a class apart from anything else they’ve written, and hint at a dexterity and professionalism that hadn’t really been previously evident. On the other hand, it’s probably the least consistent of Slow Club’s three albums so far, and it’s difficult to fully recommend it as one of the strongest records of 2014 given the erratic quality control. There’s still enough to keep you returning to it though, and in an era where single sales easily outstrip album purchases, there are worse times to have a record that’s a mix of killer and filler. I finished my Paradise review three years ago by saying that the album suggested Slow Club were in it for the long haul, and on the evidence of Complete Surrender, that seems like just as apposite a conclusion now.