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The Bluetones - Expecting To Fly

In my capacity as Albums Reviews Editor, I phoned up a critic to sound out his feeling son The Bluetones, with a view to reviewing their debut LP.

"Well...I like them," he hesitated. I like them, but i can't help feeling guilty. It's like when you've got a new girlfriend who looks exactly the same as someone who you used to love dearly years ago. You can't help but start worrying as to precisely why you like her."

Yeah. I know. The Bluetones, man. I love 'em. I know I shouldn't - my critical faculties usually go screaming into overdrive when faced with something this reverential of rock tradition, this infused with 12-string guitars and Byrds-esque harmonies, this guitar-led and WHITE-but I do. F*** it, though. Why should I be ashamed of liking someone? Anyone. I'm a Bluetones fan. I don't like 'em cos they remind me of something which once happened to me in the dim and distant past (perhaps I do: but then, there's a case for arguing that your love of anything, especially pop music, is informed in such a way). I don't like 'em cause they reassure, comfort me with the familiar (alright maybe I do: but then, who doesn't? Jungle? Tricky? Techno? Robson & Jerome? Bollocks). I don't like 'em cos I'm in love with the classic Sixties lineage of Hendrix, Clark and Harrison (I'm not, not particularly. Give me a sweaty soul screamer or Nina Simone's bluesy piano any day). The reason I like the Bluetones is cos they are the Bluetones - Scott, Adam, Mark and Ed's - and cos they give me moments to cherish TODAY(last month, last year, tomorrow, whenever): not cos I want to return to some semi-mythical past.

"Wouldn't it be nice," our Features Editor asked the other day," if we could find a critic who loved The Bluetones unreservedly, who didn't feel the need to mention The Stone roses when they wrote about them?"

Yeah, i know. I've listened to too many records. I'm a critic, so sue me. But I love The Bluetones, and with only a couple of reservations. And I'll tell you this... the only moments on "Expecting To Fly" that make me think of Madchester's finest are when the 'Tones are below par; like the album's starter, the seven-minute long, wannabe epic, "Talking To Clarry", which is "Breaking Into Heaven" revisited or I'm a stunted, blinkered Cast fan. Or on the palid "Vampire", halfway through side two. On both occasions, the guitars sound scarily Squire-esque, the production a dead ringer for "Second Coming". (I mean, I could say the songs recall Led Zeppelin or Primal Scream, but I'd be lying. Squire it is, and Squire it remains.) But these songs remind me of The Stone Roses not because they actually sound like 'em (as such), but because they sound like they want to sound like 'em.

"Talking To Clarry" has an acoustic middle-section that should have been left where it was discovered festering under the corpse of "Scarborough fair". "Communication is blurred/ I can't understand a word," Mark croons. Spot on. This song is far too self-conscious to work - it even starts with the sound of planes taking off, a la "Breaking /into Heaven", like The Bluetones are preparing to escape from their hometown of Hounslow, before breaking into one too many time changes.

Fortunately, such moments are far few between: in no way could The Bluetones create songs of such incandescent beauty as "Bluetonic", "Slight Return" and the gorgeous "The Fountainhead" (far closer to the shimmering delights of The Sundays, anyway) if they were consciously trying to ape anyone. Listen to "Bluetonic". F***ing listen to it. It's classic pop:recalling the jangly innocence of Bristol's Sarah Records at its catchiest and Scotland's vastly influential Postcard label. Why the need to pigeonhole? And those lines, "When I am sad and weary / When all my hope is gone/ I walk around my house/ And think of you with nothing on," never fail to bring a smile to my lips.

"All this talk of progression is bollocks," Richard of 60ft Dolls told me recently. "Journalists expect music to progress, but it's not about that. Progressive music is often the most unlistenable. If anything, it's about regression, going right back to the core. It's about self-expression, not progression."

Damn right. Do what feels good, not what might sound good in print. Be true to yourself. Worry about being criticised afterwards (if ever).

OK. There are moments on "Expecting To Fly" which grate: the way the guitars have a tendency to "rock out" on songs like "Things Change" and "Putting Out Fires" (I much prefer my Bluetones lighter, more feminine); the way the CD, in the middle of the two "sides", apes the sound of a stylus scratching its way into the centre of a vinyl record (if I want to hear that sound, then I'll do it myself on my own bloody turntable, thank you); the false modesty of the album's title; the handful of unnecessary codas; the absence of "Colorado Beetle", beautiful AND evil; the green tint on the blue feathers of the cover's peacock. But these are minor gripes only.

These moments are more than offset by the presence of songs like the aforementioned singles, old favourites like the Wings-esque "Carn't Be Trusted" (we're talking "Band On The Run" here) and freewheeling "Cut Some Rug" (Mr Morriss turns nasty again, coolly dissing an old chum - I far prefer him like that than when he's wooing his love, partly cos it offsets the music sweetness so neatly, partly cos I'm old and bitter and crap at relationships), and more unfamiliar tingles, such as the stormy "Putting Out Fires". The bluesy "A Parting Gesture", meanwhile, with its Beach Boys - standard harmonies and killer blues harp break, is the most poignant song Messrs Morriss, Morriss, Devlin and Chesters have yet written. (It should be noted here that one major difference between The S**** R**** and the 'Tones is that Mark can sing!) A better-looking "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother" for the mid-Nineties. Release this as a single, NOW!

"I think I like 'em," I wrote of Ash only last week, "but it's taking a while for my instincts to override my critical faculties."

With The Bluetones, I gave up the unequal battle a long, long time ago. F*** the critics who tell you that you shouldn't like this cos it's too much in thrall to rock tradition.

"Expecting To Fly" is, for the most part, a cracking debut album.

Review by Everett True

Extracted from Melody Maker, February 1996