When a band releases its occasionally inevitable “singles collection,” it seems that times may be hard indeed. Such was the case with The Bluetones, who dropped that load back in 2006, despite some stellar post-Britpop successes in the late 1990s with “Expecting to Fly” and the Southwestern-themed “Return to the Last Chance Saloon.” Fortunately, the band’s latest effort, A New Athens, is a surprisingly current and cheery album that brings the Houndslow, London lads into the new decade.
A New Athens might be The Bluetones’ foray into modern indie music, and they are certainly putting their proverbial best food forward. The album plays with a range of tones and sounds, without straying too far from the bands’ easygoing, accessible sound. On the lighter scale, “Firefly” is a simple, summery track that sends twinkling acoustic guitars and almost feathery drums rolling under Mark Moriss’ hauntingly pretty vocals – an effect not ruined by a more upbeat chorus and angelic harmonies. The similarly gorgeous “Golden Soul” heads out to the country, but is firmly grounded by an unseen chorus and slide guitar; fortunately, both in just the right amounts.
However, the album doesn’t just play around with airy, road trip-worthy tunes, as proven by its title track. Moriss & Co. present a harder vibe, with sharper riffs and creepy organ chords that provide a ballsier edge – something The Bluetones need on occasion to cut into Moriss’ lilting and almost too pretty vocals. The track’s heavy lead guitar comes as almost a shock, as if these guys just seem too nice to pull off an angry sound – but they deserve credit for trying. “Into the Red” takes a similarly moody vibe with ringing guitars under driving chords and a neat little riff that ushers you right out of the song.
A New Athens might be far from epic – a feat almost reached by the thudding guitars on “The Day That Never Was” – but it presents a pleasant collection of poppy tunes that lack any of the Britpop overhang to which some bands on both sides of the pond fall prey. Generally, this pseudo-London sound is generated by those that weren’t there. But The Bluetones were, and despite the changes in trends, they’re doing the same thing they did back in the ’90s – putting out attention-worthy music that, blissfully, doesn’t require too much deciphering.
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