Enough to sustain any fan’s biennial fix of Cwmaman rock.
Will Dean 2009-11-13
When Stereophonics emerged with their 1997 debut, Word Gets Around, it sounded like narrative songwriting had found a fantastic new voice. Kelly Jones' tales of small-town Wales, like Local Boy in the Photograph, were so concise and evocative – yet still rocking – that the band were immediately hooned into the leagues of festival headlining and huge homecomings.
Since then, however, Stereophonics have become a pub-rock shadow of themselves; an act that still commands a loyal fanbase – as a recent show at Cardiff Castle proved – but one that's never going to win a Mercury Prize. Not that, you'd imagine, they'd particularly want to. Musically they seem to have made little progress beyond flirtations with synthesizers, as in 2005's number one single Dakota.
Which brings us to Keep Calm and Carry On. Named after World War Two posters that seeped back into the public consciousness at the peak of the recession, it's a title seemingly designed to provoke critics into making obvious remarks about them calmly plodding along and getting on with the business of selling out arenas.
Jones, who once wrote beautifully of local suicides and disgraced football coaches, has filled this album with words there purely so that the songs aren’t instrumentals. Stories are present – opener She's Alright tells the tale of a boozy date that Jones has to chaperone through a messy night – but they're told in such trite banalities that it makes it hard to care.
It's a real shame, because there's definitely some heart here. Take Beerbottle, which sings of a flooded home and evokes the Keep Calm manifesto through the narrator's dad; as a metaphor for family unrest and stoicism it works well. But two songs later, on the weepy Could You Be the One, a potential suitor is told: "Every single thing that you do is cool." Surely they can do better.
Musically it's as solid as you'd expect – but solid won't turn kids onto the wonders of rock’n’roll. Jones's divisive gravelly voice is still in full swing, too. Sometimes it's a few stones too much, so when he reels it in on closing ballad Show Me Now the difference is palpably pleasing.
Still, for those who have flocked to see them for years, this will be enough to sustain their biennial fix of Cwmaman rock. But Keep Calm… is unlikely to win Stereophonics any new fans. No doubt they'll carry on up the charts regardless.