Everything Everything: Arc boasts "proper songs"
- 24 January 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Mancunian pop-rockers Everything Everything were showered with praise for their debut album.
But as the follow-up hits the top 10, singer Jonathan Higgs confesses: "I've only written one proper song".
Spirits are high in the Everything Everything camp. Arc, their second album, has muscled its way into the charts at number five, far surpassing the number 17 peak of its Mercury-nominated predecessor, Man Alive.
"It's ridiculous," grins frontman Jonathan Higgs. "Look at the rest of the top 10, it's insane - Calvin Harris and Rihanna! It's the real top 10, isn't it?"
His surprise is genuine. The band are "overly-critical" and consider their music "weird" and "off-putting". Higgs himself grew sick of their debut album.
"After the 80th listen, I just thought 'I wish I'd shut up'," he says. "Every song was kind of 'woo-ah-woo' and I got tired of it."
Certainly, the band's frenetic inventiveness became a target for critics. Their first record has a tendency to sound like a pinball machine having a nervous breakdown: Dozens of ideas clamouring for space while Higgs's vocals pogo up and down his (admittedly impressive) register.
Looking back, he says the style arose from a lack of confidence. "A lot of tricks and a lot of distraction," designed to "hide yourself and stop people knowing who you really are".
So he set about tearing down those barriers. Arc is a calmer record: More accessible, less irritating.
"We didn't want people to feel it was off-limits because they don't have a degree," jokes Higgs.
His vocals have also been pushed further forward in the mix - a deliberate attempt to make a direct connection with the audience.
"On the last tour, I would be looking at a sea of confused faces, of people trying to sing along," he says.
"I'd think 'this song means everything to me, and you don't even know what I'm on about'.
"I wanted people to come and watch us and think, 'yes, I feel that too.'"
The decision pays off, not least because Higgs has a knack for memorable lyrics.
"Of all the dead volcanoes on earth, you just had to wretch and roll through mine," he sings on Duet, a love song set in a dystopian wasteland.
Other songs tackle weightier subjects. First single Cough Cough is about society's mindless money lust.
"Sold your liver, but you still feel in the red," sings Higgs in the video as, pointedly, his bandmate Jeremy Pritchard is force fed crude oil.
Feet For Hands, meanwhile, finds the singer reflecting on the fate of PC David Rathband, who was shot and blinded by Raoul Moat as he sat in his patrol car in 2010, and who later took his own life.
"It was a really horrible tragedy," says Higgs, "and it touched me in a way that nothing else…" He tails off, temporarily lost for words.
"I don't know why particularly that story," he says, eventually.
"I guess it's because I come from that part of the world and it just felt very real. There was a gunman in my neck of the woods. It felt very strange. And then his story, he was blinded and he tried to cope…
"Obviously it was someone's personal life, but the fact he couldn't cope struck me as a disconnect between the hero story and the reality of it."
The lyrics are thoughtful and poignant - "when you think of me, don't remember this, not the slow wane of a blinded man" - so it's a surprise when Higgs says they were not the starting point for the song.
"I never start with the lyrics," he says. "I think you write clumsily.
"The Manic Street Preachers, as much as I love them, I think that's one of my biggest pet hates - the way they start with lyrics, then they try to fit the tune into the lyrics. It gets really awkward and ugly sometimes."
The song the band are proudest of is also the simplest - the aforementioned Duet. A steady, restrained ballad backed by a staccato string section, it was their attempt to emulate The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby.
Higgs calls it "one of the few proper songs I've written", which sounds like false modesty from a man with multiple nominations for the Ivor Novello songwriting awards. But he has a very strict definition of what a "proper" song should be.
Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot is not, for example, a "proper" song.
"It's great, but it's not really a song," he says. "It relies on the sounds and the rhythms. But take an Elton John song, Rocket Man or something, and give it to a great singer and a pianist and you've got a great song.
"It has a verse, a chorus. It's got a very nice melody and it doesn't rely on any gimmicks."
You get the impression that this is the sort of thing that keeps Higgs and his bandmates up at night. What have they done wrong? What could they do better? How are great songs created?
It's the sort of probing, intelligent approach to songwriting that Chris Martin and Bono have pursued. Indeed, some reviews have compared Duet to Coldplay and U2's worse instincts for stadium-filling sentiment - but Everything Everything are too stubbornly obtuse to fall into that trap.
Nonetheless, Higgs confesses he's taking vocal lessons to prepare for the band's upcoming tour.
"I've got a singing lesson now, funnily enough. My manager booked me one. It's the woman who did the Bodyform adverts.
"'I've never met her before but I will ask her to do it: 'WOAAAAAAAHH Bawdy-for-horm! Bawdyform for youuuuu!'"
Arc is out now on RCA. Everything Everything begin their UK tour in February,