Ever since I first heard them I’ve been a big, big Good Shoes fan. The first song I heard was the demo version of ‘We Are Not The Same’ and I was immediately struck by the odd spiky guitars, slowly entwining instrumentation and just plain strange vocals I was presented with. As I collected more and more early recordings of the band, I became steadily more and more obsessed. I hoovered up facts, reviews of gigs and whatever else I could find in magazines – I even wrote their first Wikipedia page for fuck’s sake (under the name OnionHeadHat fact-checkers!). I was addicted. I think it had something to do with them being the first ‘underground’ band that felt like they were mine – no friend, magazine or other influence had told me to listen, I just heard them and that was it, they were ‘my band’ to introduce to others and rave about. I got my face onto the 7″ sleeve of their single, ‘Photos On My Wall’ and became stupidly excited by it. Think Before You Speak came out, I listened to it intently and loved it intensely – it took the old demos and added new layers and more complex arrangements. I saw them live for the first time soon after (it was brilliant in case you can’t guess what I thought about it). After this ever-increasing love affair, it took a long time for news of a new album to appear. Then a band member was replaced. I was filled with trepidation that a second album might not even appear.
However, come the end of last year we were treated to ‘The Way My Heart Beats’. Then, positive news of the next outing for my favourite Morden boys, No Hope, No Future was confirmed. I was all excited again, just like the first time. It got to January 11th and I was told that the album was exclusively available in indie record shops a full two weeks before the official release – needless to say I rushed out and snapped up my copy that afternoon. I listened to it as soon as I could. I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed. It actually lowered my mood for the day, I complained to my girlfriend and I didn’t listen to it again for a few days. Something didn’t seem quite right, it didn’t have the same feeling as the first album, and Rhys’ usually witty and urbane lyrics felt oddly self-serving and (gulp) simplistic. However, I couldn’t just let this band I’ve loved so much go without another try, so yesterday I gave it another go.
I don’t know what changed, but it was a different experience altogether. Each song sounded like an improved version of the ones I heard the first time I listened – I noticed the increased focus on the brilliant guitar work of Rhys and Steve, the far deeper sound of the album as a whole and it all started to fit together. This isn’t what I expected from that band I’d known so well, but that’s not the point, there’s a new member, a new subjective focus and with all this change there was bound to be a different feel to it all. The album opens with ‘The Way My Heart Beats’, a sucker punch of driven energy, faster than anything the band have produced before, and then shifts gear dramatically to give us ‘Everything You Do’, a gloomy affair, much slower than anything they’ve released too. It’s a bold statement of intent – this will not be a consistent followthrough from the last album, it’s going to switch things up.
It doesn’t make for a terribly cohesive listening experience, but it’s one that constantly surprises. The best three songs on the album arrive slap-bang in the middle of the album in the form of ‘Do You Remember’ (the song that best recalls the first album and then gives way to a largely instrumental outro full of new ideas), ‘Our Loving Mother In A Pink Diamond’ (the song that sounds least like the first album, powered along by Tom Jones’ drums and an almost proggy guitar pattern) and ‘Times Change’ (which is all about Rhys’ yelping vocals careering about in the verses before controlling itself to tell us that ‘Times change/So have you’). It’s this refusal to stick to one style (which they might have been criticised for doing before) that characterises No Hope, No Future; before the record’s done we have some arty, high-register guitar squeals on ‘Then She Walks By’ that Foals would be proud of and ‘City By The Sea’ closes it all up with something approaching a beautiful lament, as Rhys yearns for ‘a little more time/To feel your heartbeat close to mine’ as slowly tumbling guitar echoes around in lovely fashion.
Now don’t consider this a complete turnaround on my part, I’m still a little fazed by some of the lyrical content (‘I know/I know/I know/Oh no’ isn’t the greatest foundation for a chorus) as well as the gimmicky feeling of lyrical connections between songs (a little too ‘concepty’ for this album, I think) and the strange flow of the album doesn’t seem to sit quite right, but my initial impressions were definitely wrong. This is an exciting, changeable album from a band that offer something consistently different from the usual indie and art-pop crowd, even if their sound isn’t entirely consistent itself. What we have here is an experimental album that isn’t about messing around within songs, rather with them. Each song offers different ideas within the framework of Good Shoes’ usual jagged guitar work and biting look at British culture, and the results are by no means perfect, but definitely very good.
That’s all I could ever have wished for, a very good album from one of my favourite bands, and guess what? With every listen that familiar feeling of ‘my band’ is coming back to me all over again.