The Red Eyes: Man And Boy – album review (Falling Down Records CD/DL) 9/10

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The Red Eyes – Man And Boy (Falling Down Records)
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Absolute corker of an fourth album from the tartan Buzzcocks The Red Eyes. Joe Whyte reviews.

The Red Eyes are one of those bands that fly under the radar for the most part; they gig sporadically and release records under their own steam and rarely get involved in anything other than doing their own thing. They operate out of front-man Alan Bishop’s excellent Red Eye Studios in Clydebank and following a recent split of the long-time line up they’ve re-emerged with this new album and a recent 20th anniversary show that reunited the original band for a short set for the first time in decades.

Bishop half-jokingly referred to Man And Boy as  a coming-of-age-album for the over-fifties when we last spoke and he’s right in a way. It’s a record that clearly is a reflection on a lot of things that have mattered to him over the years. It’s also something of a concept album but don’t let that put you off. It’s merely a concept album in that it’s a series of songs that have a very loose theme running through them. Much in the way that Setting Sons or All Mod Cons had a thread linking the songs, so it is for Man And Boy; Bishop and the band have crafted an album that mixes pathos, reflection, anger, positivity and humour into songs that absolutely ooze choruses and hooks. I played the album back to back a couple of times initially and was taken aback at how good the songs actually are; these are mind-worms and seething with clever and memorable moments. As I have mentioned, the sheer amount of brilliant hooks in the songs is quite ridiculous; most contemporary punk bands fling in that hoary old “woah-oh” terrace chant thing (which incidentally, I absolutely loathe) thinking it makes them sound like The Clash.

It doesn’t. It makes them sound like white-van-man-punk (thanks for that phrase to Brother Ged Babey of the LTW parish, by the way…..) or an Oi band. The Red Eyes transcend such glib nonsense with climbing harmonies and sharp intellect to spare.

The other startling thing about this record is that it’s not particularly punk-y in the accepted sense of the term, nowadays. There’s a real pop sensibility to much of it and it avoids the metal riffs beloved of many local bands. Bishop is a songwriter with a real craft; there’s nary a second of the album wasted and it truly grasps the attention, not unlike the two Jam albums mentioned above. The sound is closer to Buzzcocks or even ’80s indie at times although with a real muscularity in the playing. Bassman David Bradford is joined by Alex King on guitar and Kev Mac on drums with Bishop on guitar and vocals and the foursome have truly made a sensational piece of work. Bishop tells me that he’d demo-ed the songs as acoustic numbers and the band learned them from those, bringing their own parts to the recording sessions. King is a terrific guitarist and his subtle and intelligent playing really enhances the songs Bishop has written. These are not songs that require any bombast although the playing is powerful and taught throughout. The rhythm section is faultless throughout the journey and sound as if they were made for these songs.

The opening song and title track is a musing on absent fathers and has a lyric that is part loss and regret and part defiance. The cover art is also reflective of the song and the album as a whole. It’s no navel-gazing exercise, however, and Bishop sounds like he’s having a whale of a time telling his story. I guess this is what he meant by “over fifties coming of age”; reflections on things you cannot change and how they’ve shaped him as a person are the order of the day and it sounds almost cathartic at times. As I keep mentioning, the overlapping choruses and hooks are impossibly catchy and the album actually gets better from this blistering early high-point.

Most groups top-load their records with the best three songs; not The Red Eyes. Although Bullets, the second track, is a vitriolic and seething cracker. It does, I have to be honest, steal a large chunk of the U.K. Subs Stranglehold in its central riff but we’ll let them off with that one. Harper probably nicked it from somewhere, anyway.

Seven songs in and there’s a triumvirate of tunes that blew me away. Regrets is an instant classic; a bubbling, rollicking roller-coaster with Bishop gleefully declaring “Regrets, I’ve had more than a few, but far too many to mention” as the band put the foot down and speed away into the ether. Nowhere Boy is among (in fact, probably is one of) the best things The Red Eyes have ever written; an aching melody and pot-boiler of a tune that gets better every time I hear it. “The Man Who Thinks He’s God” is (I presume) about our illustrious political leaders but has a real personal feel to the lyrics, too. No empty bluster from this band. King’s guitar is a spiraling, water-falling presence and the coda with the band launching into the last few lines of Joy Division’s Transmission is a neat little touch.

Rewinding slightly, Face The Truth appears to be about that singular Scottish disease, sectarianism in the playground after the two Glasgow footballing giants have met. Again, it seems to hark  back to Bishop’s formative years and continues the theme of looking back to look forward. The song itself is a growling beast with a sweet descending chord sequence at it’s core. There’s a little hint of Alan’s post-punk favourites, Spear Of Destiny, in this one and the influences are almost always looking away from the dullard punk straitjacket of so many others. It’s these little things that count.

Friday Girl could be a single and should be a hit in an alternative old punks universe where the charts aren’t polluted by saccharine popsters and the like;  starting quite gently, the song swoops in and takes control in devastating fashion. The clipped verses and soaring choruses are heaven-sent and its simplicity is probably the best thing about it. Again, the Shelley/Diggle influence is never far from view but that’s never a bad thing at all. No More Tears For Daddy is a simple lament with Bishop’s vocal and a lonely piano and is a classy ending to the album’s ebullience.

Concept album? Maybe.

Great album.? Absolutely no doubt about it.

Hear this now, folks.


Find The Red Eyes on Facebook.

All words by Joe Whyte. More from him in his author archive.

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