Ben Affleck may have picked up a Best Director BAFTA for his film Argo this year, but even he, with a few spare quid in his back pocket, wouldn't have put a penny on himself winning the best actor award once he'd seen Daniel Day-Lewis in the list of contenders. The BBC's Sound Of 2013 poll had a similar ring of predictability about it. Although Palma Violets were on the short list, they were never realistically going to top out the list of "most promising musical talent" (just like the BRITS, the winners have become a little too telegraphed and obvious). After a year in which they won 'Best Track Of The Year' from the NME ('Best Of Friends'), have had a Zane Lowe 'Hottest Record In The World' ('Step Up For The Cool Cats') and performed on Later With Jools Holland, maybe the Sound Of. Poll was just a leap too far for a group hailed as saviours of Indie guitar bands.
The four-piece from Lambeth have not yet celebrated their second birthday and already they've created quite a stir. Their early live performances brought them almost instantaneous adoration and the comparisons that have been made to the Libertines, and particularly the similarity to the relationship of their two front men Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer to Pete and Carl, has certainly not diminished interest. All the column inches and hype can, however, obscure the content from getting through and hearing the new album. 180 feels a bit like going to watch Skyfall; there's not a lot left to discover.
There are a few ways to go here, either you bemoan the slightly one dimensional, formulaic sound of a feted band only in their infancy, or you celebrate their strengths, appreciate the passion and energy, enjoy the cohesive and enthusiastic set and set aside the massive and unrealistic expectations. I favour the latter as, on the whole, 180 is a good album and whilst there are no particular revelatory moments it's still a cracking spin.
'Best Of Friends' heads up the roll call with its clattering guitars, shuddering bass line, tight percussion, catchy chorus and exhaustingly powerful delivery. The rather cinematic, semi-psychedelic, Inspiral Carpets like organ sequence provided by Pete Mayhew for the introduction to 'Step Up For The Cool Cats' gives way to another thumping rhythm, some great fuzzy guitars, crashing cymbals and plenty of maracas. This is a hook laden album and difficult not to thoroughly enjoy; the jagged, biting, generally succinct tunes continue to thrill through 'All The Garden Birds' and 'Rattlesnake Highway'.
Theatre Of Hate's 'Westworld' is reworked intermittently on 'Chicken Dippers', a real belter of a track with another killer chorus. There's some nice guitar and drum interplay on the more sedate and tempered performance of 'Last Of The Summer Wine' and a wonderfully worked arrangement enhancing all the elements of the band on 'Johnny Bag A Donuts'. As the fade out starts, the mix is spot on and the chemistry is glorious - sadly, it's cut too short.
The trio of closing tracks, including the 8 minute finale '14' (there is a reason why Indie guitar bands don't do 8 minute epics and this is another reason why) should have been lost in the edit. Less would have most definitely meant more here.
Putting the mild disappointment of the last tracks aside, 180 still has enough highlights to make it a very credible debut. Evoking sounds of The Ramones, early Clash and Stranglers, especially in the band's use of keyboard flourishes to enhance many of the tracks, it harks back to the vibrant age of incendiary material. Palma Violets have tapped into and referenced such an explosive sound but they have shown that you can still make it sound fresh, relevant and necessary. They may not justify all the hype but they do make a damn good racket.
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