The Lodger – Grown-Ups

The Lodger
Grown-Ups

The album cover of Grown-Ups features a dreary, faceless stack of flats, perhaps a metaphor for becoming an adult and living in a staid, depressing world, but the music on the album is anything but. The members of Leeds, U.K.-based The Lodger do know their way around a bedsit, but luckily, they don’t wallow in it.

Most songs take a sprightly dash to the finish line, filled with jangling to wiry guitars, clever lyrics about relationships, and unassuming, but clear vocals from founding member Ben Sidall. In fact, the sheer rush of The Smiths and The Housemartins-influenced guitar-based indie-pop sometimes obscures the fact that the lyrics are trenchant and illuminating and the song-structures are sophisticated and well put together. The Lodger delivers 14 short, catchy, highly melodic, witty songs rife with musical harmonies and lyrical ironies in just under 42 minutes on this debut album.

The band is also not afraid to wear its influences, or its heart, on its sleeve. If you ever find yourself looking back and wishing it was the 1980s all over again, at least musically, and from a U.K. indie-pop point of view, then you should set up your guest room for this charming Lodger.

The album starts off at a brisk pace, with “Many Thanks For Your Honest Opinion”, housing early The Smiths-like, drivingly upbeat guitar strum, fast, kicky drums, here ‘n’ there cymbal crashes, and short-phrase sing-talking by Ben. It zips by at a quick two and a half minutes.

The next tune, “Kicking Sand”, is also heavily influenced, musically, by the early, spry songs of The Smiths, with its up-tempo dynamics, jangling guitar riffs, and drum and cymbal hits. The sound is clean and crisp, as Ben sings “we’re not superstars. We’re just kicking sand…”.

The band shows a more dance-pop oriented side on “Getting Special”, with its thumping drum beat, nouveau-retro, Euro-disco feel and wordless, backing, female vocals. Think of a complex, intriguing mix of Saint Etienne and Pet Shop Boys, where at some point, the girl sings one line, and then right after, the guy sings the next line… “…I’m a part of the rat race, living live from 9 to 5, can I just sit in my bedroom, for the rest of my life”.

“You Got Me Wrong” goes back to a brisk pace of the first couple of tracks and is crammed with lots of lyrics. The imprint of The Housemartins is all over this one, from its jaunty tone and fast pace to its upbeat, wiry, strummed guitars. Ben’s vocals register in the regretful zone (naturally matching the subject of the song title) and the chorus has some higher, airier singing.

The melancholy vibe remains for “A Free Period”, another fast-strummed song with upfront vocals where Ben sounds a bit like Bernard Sumner of New Order, but more delicate and less flat in tone. While the lyrics get repetitive, there is the added touch of backing female vocals on the chorus and, at times, doubled male vocals.

“Simply Left Behind” is the quintessential “relationship” song, with Ben plaintively sing-talking “…you fall in love with all the idiots…” against jangly guitars. There is an unexpected moment in the song that harks back to the best of Morrissey’s vocal tones, when Ben sings “No…” in a wavering and echoed voice. It’s a fleeting moment, but it’s haunting, like the bittersweet passing of a relationship.

Then it’s back to a more emotionally upbeat Ben (complete with snarky lyrics) on “My Advice Is On Loan”, with his sweet male vocals sometimes doubled and sung against piano notes. Unfortunately, the song is short, under two minutes, and it’s hard to ingrain it into the brain because of its brevity.

That “train-track”, bass-end, wiry sound, that is present in first couple of songs also surfaces at the start of “Let Her Go”, with its familiar The Smiths-type guitar jangle, but the song quickly morphs somewhat into a tribute to mid and later Boo Radleys songs, with plainer vocals that get a bit higher and wispier on the chorus, and with trumpet notes accenting the chorus and mirroring the vocal melody.

A highlight of the album is the diverting and different “Watching”, with it’s Boo Radleys-like guitars, without the distortion, and sweet, The Smiths-like guitar jangle. In fact, the song does sweep you up with its persistent drum thump, high and melancholily wistful vocals by Ben, and a growing background sound of fast tambourine-shake and discreet horns.

Even though the song is lyrics-heavy (“…all the risks you have to take, are while your foot is on the brake, and your ideas will disappear, unless we drive away from here…”), as all the songs on the album are, it’s quite easy to just give in to the light, airy singing and full sound of drums, cymbals, and guitars, and, near the end of the song, a sampling of strings.

A melancholy, dance-pop vibe pervades “Unsatisfied”, with its slower, loping, but still thumping, beat, shimmering cymbal crashes, lower, minor-key singing, and a softer guitar sound that recalls Saint Etienne if fronted by a guy. A growing swell of strings in the background lend the song a dreamy air.

The Smiths-like guitar jangle takes over again on “The Story’s Over”
With quickly sung-talked vocals are the barely-heard bleats of horns. Not horrible, but not exactly memorable.

The song “Not So Fast” doesn’t lie, at least not at its start, with a slower and smoother, looped guitar run and subdued vocals. It’s a change of pace from the mostly unrelentingly brisk dynamics of other songs. Ben sounds more thoughtful here, with more feeling to his singing, and the instrumentation doesn’t run rampant over the lyrics.

“Bye Bye” is a fitting final song to the album, except it’s not the last song! It’s a slower, more downbeat number with slow-strummed guitar, tapped cymbal, and drawn-out, melancholy vocals, where Ben sings “meet me at the shops, at six o’clock, on the dot, meet me wearing white. If that’s alright, I’ll wear black”. Strings on the chorus bolster the strummed guitars a la Boo Radleys.

Then, bam!, “Let’s Make A Pact” ends it all on a way-upbeat, jaunty note, jumping right into it with a high, kicky beat and fast-strummed, jangling guitar, and plain vocals where the chorus parts are actually slower than the verses!