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Music Review: The View – Which Bitch?

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A four piece from the granite city of Dundee in eastern Scotland, The View first emerged in 2006, garnering a reputation for ecstatically received and occasionally violent live performances and releasing two of indie-rock's staple records of the year, the proudly rockist "Wasted Little DJ's" and the anthemic "Superstar Tradesman". Fronted by the angelically featured Kyle Falconer – whose Caledonian burr was obstinately undisguised – their debut album Hats Off To The Buskers accordingly reached number one in the UK album charts on release and the single "Same Jeans" was for a short time as inescapable as death and taxes. Essentially a distillation of youthful punk energy tinged with elements of scuzzy seventies blues rock, it was a record probably greater than the sum of its parts, but after a triumphant British tour which culminated in a celebrated hometown crescendo, rags to riches beckoned.  

Two years is a long time in the entertainment business. Now essentially a genre label as opposed to a means of distribution, independent music in Britain has seen wholesale changes in taste in the space of a few short months. Gone is the laddish, cloistered new wave that dominated the student disco since the emergence of the Arctic Monkeys, to be replaced instead with the noir romanticism of Glasvegas and White Lies or glam nostalgia of Empire of The Sun. The change was brought into startling relief when The Kaiser Chiefs – the poster children for the old order – saw their new album Off With Their Heads spend a mere six weeks in the top hundred, just months after selling thirty five thousand tickets for a concert in their Leeds birthplace. Band insiders talked of over exposure. In reality, the cycle had drawn to a close.

The secret of career longevity is reinvention. Take Blur, who undoubtedly created the short lived phenomena of Brit pop. Their 1993 album Modern Life Is Rubbish – with it's Ray Davies intonation and pensive art-rock homages – gave birth to the movement, and whilst they would subsequently then go on to define it on Parklife, they savvily recognized shortly afterward that the game was up. Rejecting the institutions they'd become, their eponymous fifth release saw the introduction of a different sound which owed much to the dork-ish nerdity of Pavement. Career time lines have significantly contracted since then. Whereas just a few years ago it was acceptable to record two albums of roughly similar material before striking out for new territory, artists in the iPod era have been reduced to continually shredding their modus operandi, changing each time they went into the studio just to maintain critical momentum.

There's really only one place to start talking about Which Bitch? The View's follow up to Hats off To The Buskers. It's not the woozy harmonica peppering the shambolic, charming opener "Typical Time 2" and even less so "5 Rebeccas" which constitutes a fleeting rock of familiarity for the "Same Jeans" demographic. No. It's centerpiece, psychologically if nothing else, is "Distant Doubloon", a song which as its title suggests is a yo-ho-ho and indeed a-bottle-of-rum sea shanty inspired by the cast of Treasure Island, although it's unlikely that even Captain Hook was as profane as First Mate Falconer. From a listener's perspective just to take it all on board is to enter a world of shock, confusion, and amusement. Without doubt this is the unchecked creative hubris of a group who are convinced that they either have it all to prove or alternatively nothing, and in its uniqueness, it's beyond any critical appraisal.

It's not the only example of boundaries being pushed; "One Off Pretender" also goes some way towards thumbing a nose at noughties guitar band orthodoxy, as Falconer semi raps his way through the verses, although still admittedly sounding more than little lightweight in the rhymes department. They can still do more than passable things with voices and guitars alright, as the sixties melodic of "Glass Smash" and the almost soulful vocal harmonies of "Give Back The Sun" demonstrate, but you can't help but feel that many will have sought the exit door by that point feeling more than a little dazed and let down. You also sense that Falconer and co. might not really care.

It also doesn't help that there's a particularly uninspiring and soggy midsection either, comprised of the uninspiring "Covers", "Double Yellow Lines" and "Shock Horror". Whilst their spirit of invention on display is to be wildly applauded, at fourteen tracks Which Bitch? feels like an over-extended joke which only the band will ever get. Snapping in and out of focus, the other overriding impression is of a collection of great ideas which mostly didn't get much beyond the stage of simply being that. Maybe producer Owen Morris is to partially blame, although in his defense, during the rare moments of lucidity it's a record which is both intriguing and quite disarmingly beautiful.

Awarding Which Bitch? a fence sitting 7 out of 10, the New Musical Express described the Dundonians predilection for risk as "career suicide". The band's principal media sponsor throughout their lightning ascent, this could simply be their build-them-up-to- knock-them-down raison d'etre at play, but somehow that seems unlikely. Their appraisal will reflect those of many who made Hats Off To The Buskers a treble platinum overnight success story, but just maybe its diversity could be something else. Perhaps this is a winner takes nothing shot at reinvention, a sitting in the gutter aiming at the stars stroke of genius which like all great works is easily misunderstood. And who knows, as the realization sinks in we may yet all end up wearing eye patches and sporting a cutlass this festival season.

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  • aberdeen_born_and_bred

    Please get your geography correct… Dundee is NOT the Granite City… that is Aberdeen which is an hours drive north. Dundee is known as the “City of Discovery” and is also known for the 3 Js (Jute, Jam and Journalism).