For better or worse, welcome to the new Mumford & Sons.
Martin Aston 2011
NME’s description, "life-affirming graft rock", kicks off the press release for Young Rebel Set’s debut album, so presumably both label and band see it as a compliment, even if the word ‘graft’ suggests something workmanlike and forced. Actually, the blurb does make of a virtue of "three years schlepping across the country in the back of the van", as if this gave their songs a tension and authenticity that would otherwise be lacking. It goes with the territory, really, given this Stockton-on-Tees septet’s stoic, gritty, blue-collar sound, somewhere between rock, soul and folk, between those old stalwarts ‘rebel rock’ and ‘dad rock’.
Lyrically, frontman Matty Chipchase says he takes inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan; but what Curse Our Love mostly sounds like is Mumford & Songs influenced by The Clash (post-punk version): catchy tunes, heartfelt and heroic sentiments, the ups and downs of the common man. Chipchase – sadly not a name to inspire the rebels within, like Joe Strummer or Johnny Cash – is unafraid to use the vernacular of old: the album’s opening words, on current single Lion’s Mouth, are "they saddled me with bullets and they handed me a gun, and they set my boy a-going off to war". If you’re already thinking of The Alarm, you’re not far off. On their last single If I Was, Chipchase sings of sailors, soldiers and jailers against a backdrop that can only be described as "rollicking".
YRS’s paeans are as straightforward as they come, but what’s beguiling about them is their line-up; beside Chipchase, there’s guitar, bass, mandolin, keyboards, drums and even a harmonica player. And yet their sound is wiry and lean – at times, they could be a trio. Bagatelle – the album’s loveliest moment – is stripped right back, and Measure of a Man is practically skiffle. It means they don’t topple over into overkill, but also they could do with resembling a force of nature to match, say, the E Street Band or The Hold Steady. However, Borders shows Chipchase’s love of Springsteen, and Fall Hard redefines ‘Dylanesque’. At least Chipchase sings in his own accent, Glasvegas-style.
But what will make or break them is people’s capacity for hard-won honesty and smalltown anthems. You just know Young Rebel Set are the kind of band who will polarise audiences, and most likely upset those critics who think magnifying such virtues means they don’t have them to begin with. So, for better or worse, welcome to the new Mumford & Sons.