How do you make an album that sounds like summer? Well, if this debut from The Delays is anything to go by, it’s pretty straightforward really. For starters, you kick things off with a catchy hook played on kettledrums. Already the listener is in the Caribbean, or at the very least at the school summer fair with the cheap playground tarmac melting around their ridiculous sandals. Then you call the first track Wanderlust, not forgetting to name the album Faded Seaside Glamour.
That will get you halfway there. But there’s something you’re forgetting. You also need a singer with a voice so sensationally vibrant it’s like a ray of sun piercing a gap in a stubborn cloud in that magical way you occasionally see. Such as Greg Gilbert from The Delays. Okay so it’s raining and cloudy while I write this if you couldn’t already tell, but what the hell, I’m going to have a barbecue anyway. Faded Seaside Glamour is the kind of album that’s worth buying a hammock for.
Perhaps like me, you didn’t ever really quite ‘get’ The Byrds, because whilst you could appreciate those uniquely pure harmonies on, say, Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, you would still rather appreciate the wit and quirky timing of the croakier Dylan original. But it’s true that on more than one occasion, the Delays will remind you of that famous covers band, as well as The Cocteau Twins. That might entice you or put you off depending on your perspective, but to hear such a great understanding and execution of vocal harmony on original music in 2004 is quite unexpected, and frequently spine-tingling stuff.
But it’s not a vacuous vacation that’s all silky powder sand harmonies and grass-skirted chords. As the album title suggests, The Delays are not embarrassed to hire a caravan for a couple of weeks in Bournemouth and let you come in for a generous helping of fish and chips. There’s a grittiness to several of the tracks that serves to ground those eloping shimmering choruses, as well as an intrinsic melancholy. In fact, Faded Seaside Glamour plays a clever trick on the listener, because for all the bright choruses and jangly guitar melodies, it’s always intense, bordering on the passionate, yet manages to be achingly sad at times too. In short, it’s an object lesson in how pop music can be deep and rich, where it often forgets to be, and plumps for manufactured surface emotions instead.
It’s no revelation to discover then, that The Delays originate from Southampton, which leader singer Greg Gilbert describes as being “really, really average in every single way.” Indeed, one of the most uptempo and melodic songs on the album, Long Time Coming, is conversely inspired by the general mediocrity of growing up in a place where “the only thing you’ve got are these airplanes coming in and out constantly over your head, so you can feel the world is a big place but you’re not seeing any of it.” With a bittersweet pounding chorus that asks the question; ‘How can you grow old you were my triumph?’ Long Time Coming is really a tribute to all those old acquaintances that ended up in the places they once tried to leave behind, now stuck in jobs they hate. It’s a key track that explains something at the heart of the music. There’s a constant awareness that shadow is always caused by light, but a joyous celebration of that relationship too.
If there’s a glitch in the album, it’s the last track. Avoiding the usual indie pop trait of finishing an album with a thoughtful acoustic ballad, On is actually the least cerebral and most throwaway song. For a band that seems to be so brilliant at turning downbeat sentiments into sparkling pop, this feels like a wasted three minutes. Whilst avoiding finishing the album with a gentle number is to be commended in principle, you might find yourself putting the album back to track one before number twelve has run it’s uncharacteristically vague course. There are also a few strange bleeps peppered through the album that will have you reaching for your mobile phone like the Pavlovian dog that you are, but other than that it’s a delicious bubble of an album to lose yourself in.
Despite some of the points made above, Faded Seaside Glamour isn’t a depressing affair. Indeed after several listens it will probably still manage to lift your spirits considerably. It’s just that you can’t help but be aware of the depth beneath all the sing along in your car choruses. It’s got a summery feel to it, but it’s not exactly what you would play on your ghetto blaster on the beach either. Still, it is the perfect album to play loud indoors while you dream about summer coming round again. Just be careful not to bang into anything when you’re wearing your sunglasses and it’s foggy outside, and for goodness sake- put that Frisbee down before you break something!
Faded Seaside Glamour (2004)
Genre: Indie Pop
Record Label: Rough Trade