Indie band’s comeback LP is a fine document of like-it-is affairs.
Mike Barnes 2011
Fronted by UK-based Brazilian singer Isabel Monteiro, Drugstore emerged in 1993. But their slow, yearning songs were at odds with the primary colours of Britpop. In fact, they never really fitted into any particular category and, despite high profile fans like Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley and a top 40 album, they drifted towards the margins until announcing a hiatus in 2002.
Prompted by the gift of a guitar by a fan, Monteiro relaunched the group for occasional shows in 2009. Such a romantic gesture really demanded a positive outcome, but even so the odds would have been long that, 18 years after their formation, they would reappear with some of the strongest material.
Monteiro is a singular songwriter. Things haven’t been easy for her in the intervening years – lost love, homelessness and, so it would seem, fondness for a drink or two. But unlike some of the current crop of solipsistic female singer/songwriters, with ‘ickle girl’ voices, Monteiro simply tells it like it is, good and bad, with a generosity of spirit and a humour that makes it universal.
“All the grooves inside my head, they have been worn out,” she sings sweetly on Lights Out. On Can’t Stop Me Now she states “I need a drink, I need a little high” in a way that make the listener wonder if the song’s title is either a positive statement of intent or a forewarning of an inexorable decline.
On the delicious Aquamarine, over a kind of mambo rhythm, her answer to a proclamation of love from an admirer is the pithy, “I like living alone, unprotected and free / My heart is made out of stone, my only friend is the sea.” After much musing she declares that “life is a pretty accident” on Blackholes & Brokenhearts.
The strong, simple tunes that have always hallmarked the group have returned, and from the opening Sweet Chili Girl the new line-up retain a sparse, expansive sound, with twangy Western guitar. Elsewhere they make sparing use of drums, keyboards and lonesome violin.
Drugstore have been both placed at the dreamier end of the indie spectrum and compared with Leonard Cohen. Anatomy shows that there’s more of an overlap there than one might have imagined.