Friday, January 30, 2009

Scotsman Which Bitch? review

THERE was barely time to catch a breath when The View first tumbled out of Dundee and into the charts a couple of years ago, quickly winning over fans with their scrappy indie rock energy and taking obvious relish in the hedonistic lifestyle that was suddenly theirs.

They knew as well as anyone what their employment alternatives were back home – and, given what a precarious career music can be, what they may yet return to – so they were going to enjoy that constant supply of alcohol, substances and groupies while they could.

In some respects, they just got lucky, thanks to an ear for a catchy tune and an ability to tear it up live. There are dozens of other bands in their position, who benefited from the indie boom of the last few years and now have to demonstrate the musical chops to stay in the game.

For this follow-up to their Mercury Prize-nominated debut Hats Off To The Buskers, they returned to the residential Monnow Valley Studios in Wales, and to the reprobate authority of Oasis producer Owen "mad dog" Morris, a man who appears to share The View's love of going wild in the country (or anywhere, really). This mutual bad influence society resulted in the typical round of all-night sessions and drunken near-misses by the river. Most shockingly of all, band and producer would often get their kicks by listening to the works of Gustav Mahler.

Accordingly, Which Bitch? (a horrible title explained with great delicacy by frontman Kyle Falconer as to be taken in the sense of "which bitch am I singing about in which song?") mixes straight-up, all-boys-together indie rock'n'roll with a more unexpected sound palette that at least reveals some ambitious intent to move forward.

For better or worse, The View had been so busy living it up on tour that only half the songs to have made it on to the album were written prior to going into the studio. Consequently there is a sense of spontaneity about the results. Let's try a brass arrangement here, let's knock off a charming, throwaway tune there. Paolo Nutini's around – why not drag him in to share some heavily accented vocals on one track? Which Bitch? captures that messy splurge of creativity, beginning with a childlike piano refrain, bluesy harmonica and skiffle beat and ending, nearly an hour later, with a woozy, presumably late-night, conversation about really important trivia.

What passes in between is not unlike a night spent listening to their jumbled anecdotes. Remember that time they fell in with this dodgy guy and he took them to a hostel – only it wasn't a hostel, it was a brothel? How they laughed, and then wrote a song – Give Back The Sun – about it. Then what about that night in the cells? That's got to be worth some half-spoken verses and a terrace chorus , on the raucous, untutored One Off Pretender. And haven't we all had to use Double Yellow Lines like a trail of breadcrumbs to get us home after a night on the tiles?

They could easily have fallen into the trap of having nothing to write about beyond the walls of their dressing room or tour bus. There are a couple of tracks which deal with the strains that touring puts on a relationship, but the lyrics have a genuine, autobiographical ring to them and the band are still young enough to get away with writing songs about being wasted. How ever, they have also not exhausted the mileage they can get from their council estate background, capturing the spectrum of street life in their Dryburgh 'hood, like Glasvegas with a sense of levity.

Recent rip-roaring single 5 Rebeccas paints an Arctic Monkeys-like portrait of a precocious schoolgirl with a colloquial eloquence – if you can make out any of the detail in the helter skelter dash to the end of the song.

They also follow Alex Turner's Last Shadow Puppets lead in using characterful orchestration to drive the stories behind Distant Doubloon, which playfully casts a host of Dundonian characters in a pirate adventure, but contains the sting that "metaphors are easy just to talk about it, growing up with spacers I can live without".

There is ambivalence in even their most upbeat numbers. Realisation wakes up and smells the coffee ("world domination makes you feel so small, realisation of it all"), while Unexpected captures Falconer in rare contemplative mood, singing about the death of his father.

The response to this chaotic album has to be ambivalence too. But, whether Which Bitch? is the result of a determination to push their own boundaries or a happy accident to emerge from blithely messing about, at least The View have chosen not to be complacent.

By Fiona Shepherd, The Scotsman, 30th January 2009


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