A Week With… 8. Midlake – The Courage Of Others

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Whereas ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ knocked you back with a couple of killer tracks and let the rest of the record wash over you, gradually becoming endearingly familiar, ‘The Courage Of Others’ is a record which refuses to offer cheap thrills or quick hits. This is a record for the listener and the more listening you do, the more it reveals. I didn’t expect to be quite so taken with ‘The Courage Of Others’, but the mixed reviews had intrigued me, the last record had gently entertained me and there was a vinyl pressing available. It was always going to happen!


What wasn’t always going to happen was my subsequent gradual, helpless, fall under its spell. For a start, it’s a lovely, warm-sounding vinyl pressing so it got a second play soon after its first, enough to suggest that there were some lovely textures in these eleven songs. But, when I found myself making a fairly sombre, chilly train journey, not to mention the accompanying, even more sombre and even more chilly walk home, ‘The Courage Of Others’ provided the perfect soundtrack. The album sounded perfect for those forty five minutes and I’m starting to think that that’s exactly what this record is. Perfect. The quite magically understated vocals from Tim Smith convey the sense of a songwriter utterly embedded within his own music. I can understand why some feel that this represents a slight dip from ‘The Trials Of Van Occupanther’ and that things aren’t as lively as they should be, but it certainly isn’t how I feel about this absolutely spellbinding collection. I’m a sucker for voices that become part of the music itself – Jimi from Doves, Joni Mitchell, Thom Yorke – and this is why the more subdued delivery by Smith on ‘The Courage Of Others’ is very much to my liking. The bafflingly sniffy Pitchfork review actually suggested that Smith sounds uninterested in his own songs and detached, “delivering every line with the kind of passion you might reserve for courtesy calls.” I really, truly don’t hear this. To me, it suggests a singer positioned at the core of his music, working with the music rather than riding over the top it. It feels highly personal and as such showmanship is kept to a bare minimum. I honestly never got the sense that he was in anyway detached or disinterested.

The warning tone of the flute motif on ‘Rules, Ruling All Things’ is one of those relatively minor, subtle affectations that are all over most decent records, but it’s one that stood out to my ears and, as such, has becomes one of the focal points of this record. The power of such tiny moments captures the spirit of ‘The Courage Of Others’. This is, perhaps thankfully, not an album with such a distinctive aural signature like ‘Roscoe’. Despite listening to this album a lot this week,  I don’t find myself wandering around whistling or humming various songs from it. Having said that, there are now a good half a dozen or so little moments like that unsettling flute that act as anchors for this record, completely transfixing me each time they pass my ears.

Words like ‘pastoral’ get bandied around for music like this without further explanation, and ‘The Courage Of Others’ seems, more precisely, to be about the importance of nature. There’s a strong feeling of the emotional turmoil and sapping of the spirit sometimes evoked by the winter months. Attempting to engage with such heavy blankets of melancholy, hoping to stave off their often disturbingly consuming weight, is no mean feat and I feel like this album speaks from such experiences. “I will train my feet to go on with a joy, a joy I have yet to reach,” Smith intones on ‘Core Of Nature’ and irrespective of whether that’s what he meant at the time, it captures perfectly for me that hopeful belief that you can walk yourself out of the gloom, even if you’ve never quite managed it yet. The very fact that there’s plenty of things out there to tempt you into action, to spur you into movement, if you’re willing to do so, further reinforces that awkward no man’s land where you know what you should do but still that doesn’t do a thing to abate the feelings that stop you in your tracks. I may have misinterpreted that line, the whole song, the whole album, but whichever way you come at it, I still believe there’s an emotionally articulate core to this record which is at risk of being ignored due to the minor key music by which some seem unengaged.

The Courage Of Others’ is littered with lyrics open to interpretation but this is an album about the human condition and how nature accompanies, embellishes and shapes our responses to life. The music is complex yet unassuming. It doesn’t do bells and whistles, it just trusts you to come and find its glories. I’m sure that for many, this will mean a couple of cursory listens before being consigned to the shelf or some untouched folder on a hard drive. More fool those people for missing out, but then I can’t deny that I quite like the idea that my absolute and unremitting love for this album makes me part of a fairly small group who will cherish this quite fantastic record for many years to come. It already feels very much like it’s my record, and that only serves to reinforce that belief.


You can read another thoughtful piece on this remarkable album over on a new music blog, ‘Signals’, which is the brainchild of former teatunes-er, Dan. Click here to have a read.

2010 on the record

Two Lovely Men Talk About Twelve Lovely Cover Versions

As this has now left the shelves of newsagents across the land, I can’t see any harm in posting up my interview with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass in their current guise as The Hot Rats. Their album of swaggering, insistent and remarkably vital sounding covers, ‘Turn Ons’, is out now. They were both thoroughly lovely and happy to chat about the new Supergrass album and their departure from EMI. There are some leftover bits from this that I really should put up here sometime. For now though, have a read.


The Hot Rats

Two-thirds of Supergrass adopt new moniker, hook up with Nigel Godrich and record twelve remarkable covers in two weeks.

Fun. That one syllable is the essence of what The Hot Rats are all about. Essentially an extra-curricular project stemming from time spent promoting the last Supergrass album as fictitious duo The Diamond Hoo Ha Men, bassist Mick Quinn having sleepwalked out of a first floor window whilst on holiday, this latest endeavour is something that shows a different side to the band. “It’s got that mixtape vibe, but done with a contemporary twist by a contemporary band,” explains Gaz. “It was just a bit of fun and it turned out better than we expected so we thought we’d have a little crack at putting it out.”

“The whole idea was to do at least a song a day, a really fast recording,” Danny explains. “We’d choose a song really quickly and then do it that afternoon or evening.” “We had four or five songs that we’d decided on at the start of the session,” continues Gaz, “and then it was a case of waking up in the morning and getting in the studio and thinking ‘right, what’s next?’”

The impeccable song choices on ‘Turns Ons’ (Gang Of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’, Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’, The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Can’t Stand It’) aside, it’s what they’ve actually done with them that makes this one of the first great releases of 2010. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’ is almost unrecognisable until the chorus kicks in, shorn of its not inconsiderable guitar riff. Although they initially considered sticking to the sound of the original, “we thought,” explains Gaz, “let’s just try it acoustic. So, I picked up the guitar and started playing chords over it and it just seemed to have this mid-Sixties Who feel.” Factor in the falsetto verses and you have one of the album’s stand out tracks.

Danny cheerily admits that their version ‘Love Cats’ draws on another great song: “Me and Gaz just started jamming for five minutes and we had this sort of ‘Lust For Life’ vibe. It’s the beauty of working with one person for so long, we know how we want something to sound. It was just really quick.” The inclusion of a cover of the Sex Pistols‘EMI’ can’t be entirely innocent, can it? Supergrass parted ways with Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, in 2008 and this particular song choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows. “It’s a little cheeky wink, but there’s no real animosity,” explains Gaz. “The company changed and we were happier to get out before we got really left in the shade. All the risk taking had just kind of disappeared.”

Record label politics settled and with Supergrass now part of the Cooking Vinyl family, the follow up to ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ will arrive soon after ‘Turns Ons’ and Gaz is happy to talk it up. “There are some amazing songs on there, songs that I can imagine playing in a vast stadium somewhere. I’m really, really pleased. This record began life as a sort of free for all; we were swapping around our instruments, keeping things fresh and spontaneous. It’s like our little ‘White Album’. It’s just been tightened up week after week in terms of making it into a record that’s really powerful. It’s not as rock and roll as ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’. I think it’s just a psychedelic record. ‘In It For The Money’ was quite a psychedelic record, and I think this is probably our most psychedelic record for a good few years. It’s hard to say exactly but it’s sounding wicked.”

Far from being a way of treading water or filling a creative vacuum, it seems that The Hot Rats album actually played its part in setting the tone for the new Supergras album. “I think on this one we wanted to be pretty disorganised,” continues Gaz, “go into the studio, the live room, with great sounds and bits and pieces. Working with Nigel on The Hot Rats album was a big inspiration for me and Danny. We brought a bit of that to this record.” We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Turn Ons’ is more than capable of satisfying our ears for the next few months, sonically sculpted as it is by a man of some pedigree.

And what about the presence of genius producer Nigel Godrich? How did he find working at such a rapid pace? “He was really up for that, he didn’t want to sit around doing huge production numbers,” explains Danny. “I think he enjoyed using his musical brain and his techniques in a different way. He’s so good at what he does. He totally propelled the energy of the session. He was very up.” And ‘very up’ is the most succinct way to describe this wonderful record. It’s clearly intended as a one-off but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a throwaway vanity project. Both Gaz and Danny talk of this album with genuine enthusiasm and affection. “It was just a case of exploring and experimenting,” says Gaz, “but it came out really well. I’m really proud of it.”

2010 on the record