THE COMPUTERS – Love Triangles, Hate Squares

LoveTrianglesHateSquares-424x424The first two releases from The Computers showed a band firmly rooted in garage-based rock rock.  In the three years between their debut EP (2008’s ‘You Can’t Hide From…’) and their first full length release (2011’s ‘This Is The Computers’), although still raucous, the band had tempered the rawest end of their sound with a hefty dose of punk ‘n’ roll.  That shift was hugely influenced by the album’s producer, Rocket From The Crypt’s John Reis, bringing a new dimension to the band’s sound.

If that slight musical shift between those two records was a natural progression, the shift between ‘This Is…’ and 2013’s ‘Love Triangles, Hate Squares’ is immense.  Teaming up with Black Keys producer Mark Neill, the musical boundaries have been pushed much farther and at times, The Computers’ sound has changed so much that it could be the work of a different band.  Gone are most of the high energy punk ‘n’ roll moods…in their place, the sound of hard edged soul from the garage, as the Exeter five piece blend their guitar based sounds with a heavy dose of influence from the late 60s mod scene. Occasionally, there are hints of the Dexys debut and The Jam’s 1982 swansong ‘The Gift’ coming through, partly due to pumping bass parts and an increased use of organ, but even though a couple of tunes have the soulful drive of ‘A Town Called Malice’, most of the time, comparisons to ‘The Gift’ aren’t always based on the music itself.  It’s far more to do with attitude and the understanding that power and passion can be twice as effective within a more subdued musical framework.  The Jam are a useful reference point, since the difference between that band’s musical evolution over a short period is also mirrored partly in The Computers’ musical trajectory. This huge change in sound is likely to turn off a few of their older fans, but the smoothing of those edges is best for the band in the long term; Al couldn’t have gone on much longer screaming at full pelt the way he did, especially if he wanted to keep his voice forever… Their new direction is, perhaps, best summed up by a key line from the title cut: “Bored with screaming like I’ve got no soul”…

The full throttle ‘Selina Chinese’ presents a nod to the band’s previous album with a ferocious slab of punk ‘n’ roll. Alex yelps and screams as the band tear through a ferocious two minute tune, punctuated like Elvis Costello’s ‘Mystery Dance’, played with the intensity of The Nerve Agents, only with more piano than anything The Computers have offered us previously.  Using this track as a link to the band’s past, from this point, the rest of the material spirals outward, pulling in different influences and showing a greater sophistication than ever before.  ‘Bring Me The Head of a Hipster’ packs in a fair amount of energy, tempering a scratchy guitar rhythm with plenty of piano and harmonica.  With a semi-raucous lead voice, the main hook of “you keep a-knocking but you can’t come in” isn’t very original, but it’s pretty infectious, especially combined with the barrage of whoas in the backing vocal department.  The lead single ‘Disco Sucks’ offers another excursion into garage rock territory, this time tempered by a rhythm and blues feel, dominated by organ.  The vocals retain a rough edge in places, while the music shows more than a trace of ‘Black & White’ era Hives; as such, this tune is solid – but ‘Love Triangles’ has far greater treats in store…

For the rest of this third record, the musical palate is smoother, broader, showing The Computers to be better musicians than ever before.  ‘Nothing To Say’ allows some electric piano to embellish a great, almost funky arrangement where Aiden’s drumming shows a flair not always present previously, combined with a sophisticated lightness of touch.  One of the softest tunes from the album, it presents a good musical balance as the keyboard lines weaves in an out of the rhythm section’s  work with ease.  Instantly lovable, ‘Mr Saturday Night’ taps into a hard soul/mod sound; pumping bass and swathes of organ, combined with a crying backing vocal evoke the kind of energy and spirit of Chuck Wood’s ‘Seven Days Too Long’…if it had been played by Small Faces.  If you dig this, you’ll certainly agree, this new found suited and booted sound is so good for Al’s voice.  His surprising vocal range is showcased farther on the aching soul of ‘C.R.U.E.L.’ and ‘Point of Interest’, this album’s two absolutely killer cuts. On the former, a simple arrangement of chiming guitar chords tops a Phil Spector-esque drum part, over which the vocal is just wonderful.  If any further proof were needed that his voice is up to the task, ‘Single Beds’ features a live, single take performance powered by raw emotion and some huge notes.  No amount of wordy praise matches the thrill of hearing the tune first-hand…but just trust that it is so, so good.  Could this be the same Alex Kershaw who screeched his way across ‘Love The Music, Hate The Kids’ as if he could burst just five years previously? His natural tones are so driven, with every nuance of every word just making The Computers’ new found white-boy soul absolutely compelling in a few jaw-dropping performances.

The band had hinted at change prior to the album’s release, but the level of musical maturity cutting through most of these tunes is astounding.  So, ‘Love Triangles’ doesn’t have much in common with The Computers’ previous work and, yes, maybe some people are going to be disappointed/a little bemused [delete as appropriate], but those who feel like the band has strayed too far from their punky roots are the ones who’ll lose out in the end.   For those listeners willing to go along for the ride, opening their minds and ears, this is a truly fantastic record.  For The Computers, this third time is, indeed, the charm.

April 2013