Decoration – Put Me Back On My Bike – album review
Decoration – Put Me Back On My Bike (13bsides)
Limited Edition CD/ DL
Quality not quantity, Decoration’s fourth album in ten years is epic indie.
Adopted by John Peel just a few months before his death in 2004, Decoration seem to have cultivated the sleeper cell anonymity that accompanies the type of band whose fans prefer them to stay that way.
Pleasingly resistant to search engines, the Bolton four piece released the “difficult second album” three years after the first and have waited until now before unleashing their fourth.
It was maybe meant to be like that. The rush of interest that led to a Peel session and 2005’s – Don’t Disappointment Me Now promised bright things. The debut album was an anthemic collection of ringing choruses, wry wordplay and a bravado that screamed imminent success. Two songs in the Festive 50 that year and more radio attention created a momentum that stuttered somewhere along the way. “Every dog has its day, I’ve had mine…” became a self-fulfilling prophecy but the subsequent loss of energy was explained by the intervention of life, no more no less. The inherent modesty of the band never suggested that they were set for, or even wanted, world domination.
2008’s See You After The War followed Flippant, a collection of B sides, demos and new material, and was a more muted affair punctuated by the trademark raging of Stuart Murray’s breathy vocals against an avalanche of guitars and detonating drums.
For those in the know (I found them not through Peel but through 6 Music’s Gideon Coe) Decoration occupy that space reserved for ‘epic indie’. Each song is an invitation on a road to nowhere accompanied by a mad relative. The only guarantee is that the conversation at some point will turn to male insecurity against a deceptive backdrop of chiming guitars and swooning call and response vocals.
The truth is Decoration’s music deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. For this album they’ve secured the considerable production talents of David M Allen, the man who steered (for some) The Cure’s halcyon period from The Top (1984) to Wish (1992) and there’s undoubtedly added depth and heft to the already in your face trademark punch.
Murray’s edge of nervous breakdown vocals teeter agonisingly between tears and rage and the songs typically build and build until ready to burst, replete with vexed observations on ordinary life, relationships and, on this album, morticians and girls called Kay.
Which brings me to the lyrics. Think Alan Bennett meets Guy Garvey and then scrap that. Murray is discreet about his inspiration insisting most of it is fiction yet there’s a kitchen-sink quality which elevates the small town tales inhabited by very real seeming people. They read like conversations and hook you in with killer opening lines: “Like a skilled mortician, he can fix a grin that lasts all week” (Paul Is Dead Nice) and “Yes you’re lovely and brown, but tans will fade” (While I Played Misty For You). Murray’s delivery doesn’t need rhyme and meter, the words just pour out, a manically obsessional offload that has the listener gasping for breath, if not him.
There are some very skilled flourishes on this album, whether it be in the song structures or the embellishments that emerge with repeat listens. The centrepiece is the deceptively titled Paul Is Dead Nice which commences like an innocent indie stomp with Murray’s Bolton burr painting an unflattering portrait of a man you would not trust. As the song modulates it takes on a grandiosity as the breathless vocals struggle to articulate the unspeakable feelings that this Paul character generates. The female voice then fades in like calamine on a heat rash, as the symphony of guitars and drums gradually swell. The song mutates with an ad lib rant about Hannibal and the elephants and contains the word “risotto”. Although I haven’t a clue on the specifics, it’s probably the best insight into green-eyed jealousy I’ve come across since Othello at A Level.
Elsewhere, the antique chimes Allen used on The Cure’s Disintegration prelude Flatmates, another song that detachedly unpicks a relationship seemingly shot through with male insecurity. The single Silent Kisses For Quiet Goodbyes is quintessential Decoration; wistfully intelligent with a post-punk derived pop nous and brittle concentration, not a second wasted.
There’s a Postcard record innocence to I Was A 97lb Weakling which eschews that trademark jangle for a satisfying fuzz of massed guitars. Murray’s insecurity hides behind the ranks of instruments, like he’ll sing it but he’ll never say it your face. “I don’t feel a thing cos I’m laughing again…” As an album closer, it’s quite a rallying statement that perfectly captures the ambiguities in this very honest collection of songs.
The band is planning gigs later this year as well as an intriguing collaboration with Choir Division a German choral ensemble who perform Joy Division and New Order covers.