Catch 22 Records 26th August 2016
It’s a funny thing, the Mod world. Here we are in the third iteration of Mod (fourth, if you count Britpop) and the current crop reflect the first revival more than the original bands like The Small Face or The Who. Not only have the two leading lights taken the target emblem as a cue for military names (The Rifles, The Spitfires) but both have gruff, Weller-ish, lead vocals.
There’s no doubt that The Spitfires are committed and there is a very real and often grim outlook in the lyrics that marks them out as more than stylists wearing their Dad’s clothes. Take, for example, the opener, A Thousand Times – hard times, bills a couple can’t pay, woman gone, might not be coming back. It’s a black and white Northern film of the sixties. Not only do they hymn the hard struggle, they live it – ignoring the lack of a record deal and setting up their own label. It’s a very masculine record and one in touch with its feelings and the feelings expected of a man; Last Goodbye is about the “things I should have told you”. But it’s not all gruff, there are often sweet descending chorus lines that echo a softness they long for. So Long is determined and Day To Day is furious with the way we are manipulated by those in power to hate each other.
There are some very nice vintage organ sounds – try I Don’t Even Know Myself, which also has a characteristic ’oh, oh’ to the chorus – you’ll recognise the style. So far, so Jam and Weller-ish, yet I don’t grudge them the similarities, they’ve used the style and hung Billy Sullivan’s solid and real lyrics on it. And then they step out on their own with the fiddle on Open My Eyes. In The Suburbs (We Can’t Complain), they sing about escape, bills dull lives – like a resigned Watford Springsteen.
Return To Me opens on a tube announcement (shades of Down In A Tube Station….) but this is a sweet soul number, more reflective of The Jam’s charming volte-face last moments. On My Mind (Reprise) sounds like the album’s sweet conceptual closer but, in a clever touch, there is an almost-encore, the album highlight, A Better Life. It’s a melancholy strum of a man preparing to leave his home; feeling he has failed his partner. The anthemic chorus goes: “I work and I strive, and I feel I’m holding you back from a better life”. Sad as hell but cathartic in its gritty examination of the protagonist’s feelings.
However much this aging critic hears close echoes of other bands, The Spitfires feel real and carry something honest and heartfelt that will strike a chord in many souls and ears.