In the late nineties I went with my sister to one of the better bills of bands I've witnessed at the Brixton Academy; Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Cornershop with Teenage Fanclub in their middle of the road pomp headlining. It was a great evening and all three bands put on a good show. But as we left my sister said concerning the headliners, 'I wish they'd go a bit Pixies sometimes. A bit grrrrrr!'.
Well that's what you get with Teenage Fanclub, and that's what you get with Real Estate two decades on. They're the band that refuses to go grrrrrr! New album, In Time, (just out), is actually incredibly reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub, not just in terms of its general template, (Byrdsy chiming is at the base core of everything that's going on here), but also in the basic sentiment it conveys, the idea that life is ok and it's going to remain ok.
That's fine, and we all need records that sound a bit like this sometimes, little happy pills. That said, it hardly makes In Time much of a soundtrack for 2017 except perhaps as a soundtrack for those quiet millions who never have any intention of ever voting. While other contemporary musicians are making albums more specifically for these troubled times, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Rhiannon Giddens and Priests, (who I'll get back to soon), Real Estate, (that name really, is that what they'd have done with their lives otherwise?), are staring at the sky and watching cloud formations.
It would be surly to cut them down merely for this response to life, certainly as it's important to state that they do it all very well. Re-grouping and coping with the loss of founding member Matt Mondanile who has decided to concentrate on his project Ducktails instead, they're managing fine. There's a defining sameness about their music but it's a highly comforting sameness. The ringing riffs they build many of their songs around are reliably sturdy in that Byrds tradition that Big Star, R.E.M and the Fanclub built on. Now I really love that stuff, but even for me at points of listening through to this for the first time I did think, 'Oh come on, cut loose a bit' particularly when they do divert off that beaten track into brief early seventies guitar heroics. Eagles territory. I'm with the Dude on that one!
I have a colleague at work whose favourite expression is, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it!' Which she repeats as if it's a mantra. Real Estate are quite definitely of this mind. In their universe, life is to be wondered at if not entirely engaged with in all its messy contingency. Everything is going to be alright. I hope they're right. In Mind, is a fine, melodic album to wile away the best part of an hour with. It breaks no moulds. Personally, I think it holds its ace up its sleeve til last with Saturday, the final track, which I think is the best song on the record. The moment where the sun breaks through the clouds and you get your transcendental moment. Epiphany! I recommend the record with the minor caveats listed above. For the most part it's a box of chocolates, like its sleeve, and we all like chocolates don't we? Real Estate are craftsmen of solid aural furniture. For once I think I'll grade the album, something I generally avoid on here but it seems apt in this case. A seven out of ten record. Clever boys, but could try harder!