In March of 2001, my lovely bride and I were on a honeymoon in Dublin. While walking to find something to eat we passed The Olympia Theatre and noticed a poster for a show that night: Stereophonics. I almost passed out. Here was a chance to get to see a band whose music I stumbled on in a small used CD store in Norman, OK, and whose album, Performance and Cocktails spun constantly while I was studying for The Bar.
One problem: the posters had plastered over them the phrase “Sold Out.”
I ducked into the ticket office next to the theatre and they said come back tonight and someone would probably be trying to sell their tickets. We came back and stood waiting around the ticket office for something to happen. For a long time nothing did.
I noticed a man who kept coming in and out of the office and talking to the assortment of people waiting with us. Some people disappeared and never came back, and I assumed they had somehow gotten in to see the concert. An idea occurred to me.
When the theatre manager came back in I got his attention and told him that my wife and I were on our honeymoon and I didn’t want to have to do this, but I was an A&R Rep for Maverick Records, a division of Interscope Records owned by Madonna and it would be a personal favor if he could somehow get us into the show. I was willing to pay, but he took us into an alley and ushered us into the backdoor and that is how I got to see one of the top five shows I have ever seen. The energy from the crowd and the band were unbelievable. I don’t think I understood how good Stereophonics were until that show.
Which leads me to the real topic. Stereophonics released a new album around the first of June and Sid at V2 Records was kind enough to send me a copy to a review for our little project here at Blog Critics. (She didn’t send me a t-shirt though, how do I get one of those? Wait . . . I guess I could buy one.)
You Gotta Go There To Come Back is the fourth release from this band who grew up in the South Wales village Cwmaman. Stereophonics are Kelly Jones (vocalist and guitars), Richard Jones (bass), and Stuart Cable (drums).
This is a different effort from the previous 3 albums, although you get hints of things to come at points during Just Enough Education to Perform, the previous album. (Side Note: there was a song on that album called “Mr. Writer” that pretty much guarantees nothing I write about them is important.)
This is a more mature Stereophonics. From “Maybe Tomorrow:”
So maybe tomorrow
I’ll find my way home.
So maybe tomorrow
I’ll find my way home.
A lot of the previous albums were story songs, stories about ordinary people doing ordinary or not so ordinary things like “Bartender and The Thief,” from Performance and Cocktails.
On this album the songs seem more personal, the emotions more immediate, the pains of growing up, the loss that begins to descend on a life and how we deal with that loss. From “Rainbows and Pots of Gold:”
We had some laughs, had some rows
But in the end, the walls came down
You’d like the place I’m living now
It’s a shame you can’t come around
This album is also a quieter album, musically. The songs, reflecting the mood of the lyrics, slip and slide into you like a sharp knife. There is a consistent edginess throughout that, despite the overall slower tempo of the album, grabs the ear and makes things interesting. “I Miss You Now,” sounds like the perfect after midnight drunken phone call to an ex-girlfriend.
There are a couple of songs where they pick it up a bit and you can hear them as crowd favorites live: “Madame Helga,” and “High As The Ceiling.”
Stuart Cable and Richard Jones provide the setting and give Kelly Jones the space he needs to make these songs happen. Kelly, who writes all the songs, has the late at night acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder cigarette smoldering in an ashtray and pint of bitter in hand kind of voice. In fact, this entire album sounds like it could be performed in small pub under a shared dim spotlight, stage bare except for some slightly stooped bar stools.
Stereophonics are the best band the United States has barely heard of.