Back in 2013, as a rookie NE:MM writer, I got my first ever album review assignment: Put Your Love in Front of Me by The Little Kicks , of whom I knew very little. So I set off in somewhat stilted fashion and, just under 200 words later, I’d come to the conclusion that this was a ‘mature’ album with ‘subtle hints of 10cc’. I liked it a lot, and I still do and, like many good albums, it stayed almost entirely below the proverbial radar.
Here’s an early spoiler: Their new album, Shake Off Your Troubles, is bigger and better. Ten tracks (and we all know that’s the proper length for an album) of catchy pop genius, from throbbing instrumental to tear-jerking ballad and all points in between. It’s subtle and intelligent, but more importantly it’s packed full of the kind of tuneful, memorable nuggets that seems to be entirely monopolised by Scottish bands.
Recorded in Edinburgh and on the banks of Loch Ness, produced by the band with Ric Rogass and mastered by Geoff Pesche at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, Shake Off Your Troubles kicks off with the downbeat electronic instrumental ‘Theme’. It’s always a bold move to open an album with an instrumental, but this is an appropriately bold instrumental, and, in an alternative, arena-filling, universe, this would surely be their atmospheric show opener. By way of contrast (and this is an album that revels in contrasts), ‘Theme’ is immediately followed by the melodic and memorable singalong ‘Sing About Something Real.
Finishing side one (for this is definitely an album recorded with vinyl in mind) is the mid ‘80s pop jangle of ‘Let’s Get Lost Together’; bright and breezy, it’s equal parts Aztec Camera and The Pale Fountains seamlessly welded to a delightful Smiths ending. And that’s pretty much the musical holy trinity as far as most right-thinking music fans will be concerned.
If anything, just like we found with Put Your Love in Front of Me, the second half (a.k.a. side two) of the album is even better, with the 10cc sound still apparent in the Godley and Creme flavoured ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ and the euphoric ‘Goodbye Enemies, Hello Friends’, which builds beautifully from almost nothing to almost everything.
But on an album where the high points are many and varied, the crown jewels are tucked away part way through side two, with ‘You & Someone Like Me’ all Giorgio Moroder click track and squelchy driving synthesiser (think ‘When I’m With You’ by Sparks and you’ll be in the ballpark) and the heart-breaking ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’, a piano and strings ballad about a relationship that promised much but was ultimately destined for failure. The clue was in the title really.
It sounds like faint praise to say that this is my favourite album of 2017 so far. It is only February after all. But it’s going to take something very special to top it.
I wrote a book about music once. It's called "The Great Cassette Experiment" and you can buy it for your Kindle. I'm busy writing another one. And the one after that one will almost certainly be a biography of the German genius behind Boney M and Milli Vanilli, Frank Farian.
I was 50 years old when I wrote this, however by the time you read it I will be at least 51.