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Album Review: Funtimes by The Heartbreaks
|Culture||Mon, 07 May 2012||Tweet|
by Joe Fleming
There’re two crucial ingredients in pretty much every classic popular music album:
However, given Delays’ drowsy pseudonym, The Heartbreaks probably could’ve pinched from them fairly easily, without facing danger of a swift judicial summons.
‘Funtimes’ is so vividly located that my mind’s frequently wandered off to envisage The Heartbreaks lamenting their misfortunes on the penny slot machines, running in vain towards suddenly disappearing Mr. Whippy vans, and suffering in the company of bucking donkeys and screeching seagulls. This album also possesses yearning in spades – garishly coloured spades, made from flimsy plastic, which the band won on the coconut shy by the pier but shattered as soon as they were plunged a few inches into the soggy sand. Aching turns of phrase include: “I’ll be waiting outside the Winter Gardens, feeling slightly worse for wear; if talk of romance thrills you, honey, maybe I’ll see you there?” and “when I’m feeling wistful, I will head down to the shore and dwell on things I know I shouldn’t care for anymore.” I’m really fond of these lyrics, although I fear that they’re the sorts of words that my overly sensitive thirteen-year-old self would’ve put as a display name on MSN Messenger in 2004. Very little has changed since then. I still bloody adore ‘Hopes And Fears’ by Keane.
Like Morecambe itself, the band clearly long for an era that ended fifty years ago. For example, the album’s first song mentions the seminal 1959 novel ‘Billy Liar’, Keith Waterhouse’s bittersweet tale of working-class drudgery and doomed daydreaming. I’d like to think that the band members spend their days away from the recording studio and tour bus either catching up on black and white repeats of ‘Coronation Street’ from 1963, practising their slickest dance moves to seven-inch Northern Soul vinyl in their bedroom mirrors, or reciting the script of Shelagh Delaney’s vintage kitchen sink drama ‘A Taste Of Honey’ backwards from memory. I was disappointed to learn that The Heartbreaks’ lead singer Matthew Whitehouse has a Twitter account rather than a vast network of grubby carrier pigeons. A postal service consisting of whippet dogs dressed in grey flat caps also would’ve been an acceptable alternative.
Moving on from words to music, ‘Funtimes’ jangles more than Johnny Marr paying for his private hip replacement with a bucket of spare change. ‘Polly’ is the cracker, bouncing along with unwarranted cheeriness for a song about watching the woman of your dreams raising children with another man. It has me grinning like a Cheshire cat with every listen, and deserves to be one of the ubiquitous festival anthems of the summer. In fact, I’m tempted to get the ball rolling by shouting its breezy, lilting chorus in an otherwise empty garden. These things have to start somewhere. The only problem is that I’m very loosely acquainted with a girl in St Andrews with the same name and screaming “DO YOU THINK ABOUT ME? POLLY, DO YOU THINK ABOUT ME? YOU KNOW I’D LOVE TO SEE YOU, BUT LIFE GETS IN THE WAY!” could create all manner of irksome problems e.g. a restraining order. My obsession with melodramatic, wistful pop music’s often a real logistical nightmare.
‘Save Our Souls’ is another highlight, playfully refuting the idea that The Heartbreaks are a relentlessly miserable bunch: “we can walk in the settings of our favourite Smiths song. Together we can contemplate where it all went – no, I won’t say that!” The album title further demonstrates the band’s self-aware wit. ‘Funtimes’, the name of a gaming parlour in Morecambe, is hugely ironic for a collection of forlorn songs about crushed hope and eternal confusion. ‘Bemusement Arcade’ also would’ve been a brilliant name. Unfortunately, I never received the chance to propose it in a meeting.
My overriding problem with the album’s the decision to re-record the early singles. I’ve followed the band for almost a year now, and the originals always sounded sufficiently pristine. I’ve no idea why it was deemed necessary to tinker with them. ‘Jealous, Don’t You Know’ has lost some of its rumbling thunder and its new vocal is slightly strained. You should investigate the stunning single version at once. It miraculously references Barbour jacket wearing without being utterly abhorrent. The other lyrics in the song are about feeling terrible following a wretched episode of unrequited love. The opportunity to include a perfect “waxing and waning” pun was sorely missed – shame on the band for not having my appalling sense of humour.
The Heartbreaks’ proclamations of provincial pensiveness are as fantastically British as fish and chips, red telephone boxes, and the premature death of summer. Some may struggle to acquire a taste for Whitehouse’s effeminate croon, but plenty of others will fall head over heels for the group’s ebullient instrumentation and passionate lyricism. If you’re searching for a charming revision break over the next few weeks, have a stroll on West Sands with the album blaring through your headphones. Tawdry “kiss me quick” hats are optional but recommended accessories. Let the funtimes roll…
Photo: © fuckyeahtheheartbreaks.tumblr.com
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