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Simon James revisits one of his pop highlights from 2016.
In the last month or so we’ve had quite the flurry of commercial pop records released, from some of the biggest names in the ‘biz. From Robbie to Olly, Bublé to Bruno, the usual suspects have been out in full force, just in time for Christmas. As expected, a lot of what they’ve come up with is pretty underwhelming. Looking back through the year for an alternative (and more substantial) pop record, one that keeps popping up in my Spotify history is the debut album from Welsh-French pop-folk band, Shake Shake Go. It feels only right to share it with those who haven’t stumbled across the five-piece.
The opening and title track ‘All in Time’ tells us who the band are right from the off. With an atmospheric start, it builds to a chanted refrain which works perfectly for the participatory gigs the band put on. Not mindless chanting though – the song has pertinent lyrics and fully sets the tone for an anthemic, catchy and driving album, qualities that the band cite Oasis as an influence of. This might be a surprising reference point, but is never more apparent than on track 2, ‘We Are Now’. An album highlight, the song has an opening riff which could be ripped from the likes of ‘Half the World Away’ and contains lyrics very much reminiscent of the Gallaghers’ early outlook – ‘no one could stop us from getting older’ captures the same shameless optimism which formed songs such as ‘Live Forever’.
To describe singer Poppy’s voice as the best thing on the album would be a disservice to the songs, but her delivery really does elevate the already excellent melodies. Her voice is clearly distinct from the usual generic female pop vocal: she rests quite low but has an impressive range; elegant but with a slight lisp so it never comes across too polished. It is by no means marmitey, just different enough to make you stop and listen.
Poppy’s vocal ability is fully demonstrated on ‘Teach Me to Fly’. The performance no longer features a lot of the lisp that I personally thought worked well in the original EP’s recording, but this decision is central to the theme of the song: a dichotomy of insecurity and determination. Teach Me to Fly is perhaps the strongest song lyrically (or joint with the final track) – ‘Somebody teach me to fly, I’m falling, I’m falling… give me the wings and I’ll try to come back strong enough for you’ – gorgeous imagery which juxtaposes a feeling of inadequacy with a determination to succeed.
While the songs I’ve mentioned are all quite positive, which is an indication to how uplifting the album is as a whole, it’s still very much a record made up of different colours. The atmospheric ‘Lead Me to the Water’ is far from happy-go-lucky, with arresting lyrics such as ‘we’re stranded in the dark, we’re fighting hard to breathe’ taking us on a genuine journey. And the track Little Warrior feels almost like a Snow Patrol song, a band not exactly known for their cheerfulness…
Unlike some recent albums from pop mega-stars which inspire a back-and-forth flicking between a couple of good tracks, All in Time is a record that you can enjoy from start to finish. Yes, there are standout songs (most on the first half – the A-side of the vinyl version probably sees more action), but it is a cohesive and consistent record. It deserves the exposure currently given to the work of a lot of mainstream artists who all too often seem to take a back seat when it comes to songwriting, making space for the rest of the ‘phone it in’ cyclical pop marketing machine that we are still allowing to go round and round. All in time now.