It takes a certain special kind of something to get indie fans dancing. Funk soul brothers and soul sisters will happily bust move after move; hardened rockers will think nothing of rattling their brain until it falls out of their ears and punks will pogo like it’s eternally 1976. Meanwhile, in the world of electronica a whole genre is named after the movement to music that is dance.
For us sensitive indie fans, more used to analysing Morrissey lyrics in the solace of our own miserable bedsits, we are less likely to let our inhibitions go (maybe we have more of them) and are more likely to want to stand at the back, supping our cider in appreciative stillness.
So for Theatre Royal to have got the crowd dancing at their launch night was no mean feat. This is a band who gel so well together. They’ve been around for donkey’s years; they are so utterly comfortable in one another’s company.
They move as one. They play as one. They are one.
But then, if you pay any sort of attention to the record’s lyrics, you quickly form an entirely different opinion. …And Then It Fell Out Of My Head might well contain the sort of songs to which a bunch of Friday night revellers can dance and let down their collective hair, but it is also the sort of record with which a sensitive indie fan can sympathise and find parallels to their own lovelorn lives.
The first Theatre Royal album, From Rubble Rises… saw the band on reflective form, their second outing, At the End of a River, the Sea… saw them more frustrated about the present. By the time of their third outing, We Don’t Know Where We Are presented a collection of songs concerned with themes of disorientation and doubt.
So it shouldn’t be so surprising that the band’s fourth release is rather more contemplative and thoughtful than an initial listening of ‘Port Bou’, ‘Borrowed Pen’ or the title track might suggest.
The new record shares much in common with the themes of its long-playing predecessor. Disorientation and doubt remain at the forefront the band’s collective mind. It opens with Robbie Wilkinson and his guitar on glorious searing form, paving the way for Ollie Burgess’ gloomy mantra of “I stand in the cold night air/I just stair/I swim in the midnight sea/just the waves and me” (‘Port Bou’) and it sets the scene perfectly.
Over the course of 41 minutes, there will be more of the thematic same with loneliness (or the fear of loneliness) turned up to ten. ‘Borrowed Pen’ spells out the dread of a relationship reaching its end (“I don’t want to read your early end”).
It’s an anxiety which reappears with ‘Where the Land Meets the Sky’ (“you know it’s not true/you said we might make it through”) and becomes more fatalistic in the folk-y ‘Standing in the Land’ (“we just change the games we play/doesn’t matter what we say”).
But the feeling of isolation is at its bleakest with ‘Locked Together on the Lines’, a song about a woman whose dull, routine life is interrupted when she discovers the bodies of a prostitute and a punter who have met their death in the cold night air.
You can’t get much more lonely, despondent and despairing than that (“the loneliest place can be the one where somebody holds you tight”).
For the most part though, the gloom is delivered in the first person. “I feel like my life is like a teardrop/falling to the ground inexorably…never to find its own peace” runs a line from ‘Teardrop’ (making a welcome reappearance after its premier on the ‘You Sleep‘ EP).
The concern seems to be that if the narrator of these songs worries about being doomed to be alone it’s only because of something he has done wrong.
This is someone who can “spend days showing off to others in the room” (‘Is That For You?” with its Byrds-y motiffs), can “self-destruct on cue” (‘Tune Out’) and will get frustrated in his efforts to “shape the world I’m seeing” (‘…And Then It Fell Out of my Head’).
It kind of makes sense then that he wants to hand over responsibility to someone – anyone else. (“I need something in my life to use now as a guide – I see nothing” Burgess sings on the Nietzsche-tinged ‘Staring into the Void’).
And so in ‘Is this for You?’ we get a warts-and-all, take-me-or-leave-me love song (“when I recall the first time that I tasted certain food/it might not interest you”) and then, more tellingly, in ‘Will Somebody Please Write Me a Song’, we get the plea of “this is my life: sing it for me/I don’t mind if you change the key”.
All of which makes …And Then It Fell Out of My Head a really rather wonderful record. From the intricate vocal harmonies on ‘What Has Become of Me’ through to the all-round magnificence of Robbie Wilkinson’s guitar throughout each of the 12 songs it has the sound of a beautifully crafted album, intense and rocking out one minute, heartbreakingly tender the next.
And with those unremittingly honest lyrics of self-examination, this record cannot help be anything other than beautiful crafted album.
Very, very, very much worth a listen.