Theme Tune Boy: Return of the Living Dead – album review

Theme Tune Boy: Return of the Living Dead
Out: Now

Amidst a current pledge drive, Theme Tune Boy are the latest project from Irish Indie/Punk legend Niall Quinn. Our Dublin reporter Ray Burke investigates.

Niall Quinn, one time drummer and songwriter of Irish Indie Punk band, and John Peel favourites, the Hitchers, has been playing music and recording under the guise of Theme Tune Boy for three years now. With four singles under his belt to date, ‘Return of the Living Dead’ is his first (quite short) long player.

The Hitchers split in 2001, and despite Niall’s desire for the band’s continuation, he found himself without an outlet for his distinctive style of song writing, a penchant for quick witted lyricism, delivered in a thick Limerick accented vocal, accompanied by tasty pop punk hooks.

When the band broke up, Niall roadied for Wolfsbane for a period, a time immortalized in song a few years back. He then formed Niall Quinn and the Pennywhores, garnering plenty of attention, acquiring national air play, and satisfying fans’ appetites for more material.  After the demise of that venture, and with the exception of a few sporadic hometown gigs, things were relatively quiet, until… the birth of Theme Tune Boy.

The infectious accessible pop punk of those previous outings are intact here, with perhaps a little more autobiographical contemplation, a dollop of the woes of thirtysomething drudgery, and the reluctance to forgo the proclivities of youth.  Recorded between Limerick and De Hague with Dutch Punk Pop band Cooper, ‘The Return of the Living Dead’ is his first album in over a decade, a spirited, tight affair that will have your feet stomping, your head nodding and laughing along, with songs that swirl round your crown long after the album’s duration.

The opening strum of ‘twentyfortyeight’ makes way for a rollicking back porch country-folk tinged track that sees TTB good-humouredly muse over bills, and car insurance payments, offering levity by way of contemplating the benefits of his future expiration, and avoiding the need to pay them.

‘Posteenager’ has an explosive beginning, and wins over immediately, he might be pondering the lull of Saturday morning kitchen cleaning, but that doesn’t deter him from delivering a full throttle boisterous refusal to completely submit to adulthood.  It’s a perfect slice of pop punk, replete with shouty vocals, a great chorus, thumping, perfectly punctuated percussion, and accompanying guitar as tight as a pair of dryer shrunk underwear.

‘Recess’ maintains the liveliness of ‘Posteenager’, but is tinged with slight disappointment, questioning the pointlessness of hoarding artifacts of a previous life. He reflects on memorabilia amassed from his career over the years, and meditates over whether maybe that should be resigned to the bin too.  You suspect however the “bits and pieces” are still in place, an upbeat track with backing vocals that nicely harmonize with Niall’s voice, which has never sounded better. The tightness of the band is sustained, and the contagious approach of previous tracks reels on.

‘I’d Say That Gets Really Hard Being Right All the Time’ could be about someone offering career advice, or a partner who insists on having the final word, or indeed both.   Hints of regrets run throughout the album, failed relationships, the uncontrollable passing of time, but it’s never morose. In fact, it’s the opposite, like acknowledging these things exorcise them.

Niall credits Dutch Band Cooper with facilitating the compactness of ‘Return’, but it’s a trajectory he has been on since first single ‘Rose’, clocking in at just 57 seconds, it lacks nothing in its concentrated duration.  It encapsulates what TTB does throughout the album; don’t hang around when the job’s done. It’s reminiscent of twitter short stories, where the onus is on conveying as much in as little characters.  In an economical use of words, he writes a wonderful ode to the end of a relationship, one devoid of spark, but if ‘Rose’ had seen it through for another few weeks, the protagonist wouldn’t have meet his subsequent beau, and been so screwed up by that relationship.

‘Tailrace’ is the 2nd, and last, of the four previous singles to feature on the Album.  Here is where Cooper’s hand becomes obvious, as the track has been worked considerably since its previous incarnation. Although remaining economical with time, it’s clear a further stretch was spent in the studio. It’s a contagiously catchy tune that blasts from beginning to end, with some laugh out loud lyrics “I no, nay, never knobbed any Naomis, but I did do a Dawn or two in the day”.

The core of these songs existed prior to the collaboration with Cooper.  Several tracks have popped up as earlier versions on b-sides, and offer an indication of how the album might have sounded without the involvement of René, Eddy and Bert (Cooper). The production is incredibly slick, but having such a tight band to draw on can clearly have benefits providing their sound blends with your own.  With Cooper and TTB the union is harmonious, and gives extra weight to album. The earlier incarnations of tracks however do demonstrate Niall’s instinctive affinity towards a good hook.

The contemplative ‘Pissing Away the Summer’, (daydreaming about youth), and ‘No Where’, (trying to reconcile being annoyed by, yet reminded of himself by a pisshead adolescent in a bar) are situated on either side of the more rambunctious, ‘Horrible Songs’. A track that demonstrates that aforementioned ability to write a great hook.   Here an animated TTB doesn’t understand the need for abhorrent soap opera narrative driven videos to promote dire songs, he wishes they’d just stick to videos, and leave the music out of it.  It’s a catchy number that will have you singing the chorus every time you hear Katie Perry, Cheryl Cole, James Blunt or any other dross.  It might have been that same swill that motivated the joyous manifesto of ‘One Way Conversation’. It embodies his need to stop procrastinating, and to get this album out.  Clearly in a world of ‘Horrible Songs’ there is room for Theme Tune Boy, a vigorous call to arms to give this music thing another bash.

Title track, ‘Return of the Living Dead’ is provoked by a similar dissatisfaction to ‘Horrible Songs’. This time crappy TV is in his sight. It’s an hilarious whipsmart discharge, borne out of total confusion as to what the appeal of certain programmes are, and the only better thing than hearing lyrics like “I’d rather the world shat on me than suffer Greys Anatomy” is hearing the relish in his voice as he relays them.

His song writing has a perfect blend of witticism, and contemplation, with a slight tinge of vulnerability usually manifest in a little self-depreciating humour, “…scarcely look like I’ve hungered lately”, and “Sensationalist views, occasionally alarmist, one gear drummer, and a shit guitarist”.  Niall has always had the ability to make you laugh with allowing songs to veer into novelty, and that continues here.

Closer ‘Parting Salvo’ is a melodic acoustically guitar driven, tambourine accompanied number, where TTB returns to the theme of parting ways. “Infatuation faded and passion jaded”, with a sing along final verse that betrays the monotony of what he’s singing about.

What annoys, and effects TTB is mostly communicated in jest, it doesn’t really inspire full blown venom. It’s more an honesty about coming to terms with reluctantly getting older, reflecting over, and wondering if decisions made were right or wrong, a kind of thirtysomething angst, conveyed in enterprising and mischievous fashion.

With ‘Return of the Living Dead’’ Theme Tune Boy have delivered a high octane, energetic run through that fits contemplative acoustically driven numbers alongside the more dominant pop punk tracks seamlessly.  It’s a perfectly contemplated, vivacious and funny album that can’t be faulted for its honesty, and good old fashioned simplicity.  Completely infectious, no track lingers more than it should, and the affecting liveliness of numbers continues throughout.  It beams with snappy percussion, melodic punk/distorted guitars, energetic vocals and a healthy serving of pop sensibilities.  When the end comes after a stomping energetic 30 minutes, the temptation to go for another spin is palpable.

Theme Tune Boy’s ‘Return of the Living Dead’ is released on the 17th of January 2013.

In order to source funding for its release TTB have opted for a Pledge Campaign, an increasingly popular way for left of field artists to secure finance, and not depend on increasingly disinterested record labels.

The pledge campaign is currently open, a downloadable copy of the album is yours for £4/€5, with physical copies starting a little higher, as with all pledge campaigns, the higher you pledge, the more you get in return! Find out more here!

You can find Theme Tune Boy’s previous singles on Bandcamp

All words by Ray Burke. You can read more from Ray HERE.

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