Release Date: Jul 15, 2014
Record label: Wichita
Back in 2009, Slow Club were a charmingly ramshackle act from Sheffield who’d use chair legs as makeshift drumkits and were so self-deprecating they took a disparaging YouTube comment about them (“just two fat toddlers playing at life”) and used it as their Twitter bio for a while. They were obviously massively talented – their gigs were joyful, life-enhancing affairs that begin in the middle of the audience and often ended up outside in the street) but their spiky indie-folk didn’t blatantly hint at a glittering pop career. Since then, Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson (neither of whom have ever resembled a fat toddler) have evolved into proper, grown-up pop stars.
Beginning with their ramshackle 2009 debut Yeah So, and then in 2011 with Paradise, Slow Club quickly found their music niche, effortlessly crafting a Technicolor world with their male/female harmonies and playful pop progressions. Too often though, the stark emotions of their tales were downplayed by clever lyrical twists, shared narrative perspectives, and lock-step vocal harmonies where the duo seemed to all but hide behind each other. It was almost like members Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson were communicating in the kind of language shared between best friends.
One of Britain’s most revered folk-rock outfits, Sheffield’s Slow Club were always going to have spotlights trained on them the second they emerged from their hideaway. Three years have passed since 2011’s Paradise, a record that was notably advanced from their 2009 debut, titled Yeah So with the biggest bratty sneer any 13-year-old can muster (NME even described it as “snot-folk”). It wasn’t exactly phlegm-hacking punk that they began with, but the tongue-firmly-in-cheek gags, sprightly bombast, and lack of po-faced pastoral seriousness implied a different kind of folk than we were used to back in t’ day.
Those who've seen Slow Club live will know that Rebecca Taylor belts out big notes with the gale force of a Brit School graduate at an Andrew Lloyd Webber casting. This diva guise may be quashed with self-deprecating quips on stage, but on record – especially this one, their third – Taylor performs with both the rawness of heartache and an obvious hunger for fame. This new sense of ambition is crucial for a once-whimsical band, and is reflected in their banishment of nu-folk tweeness in favour of bombastic Motown soul.
Slow Club have never quite got the credit it deserves. Too fey to be hipster, too awkward to be mainstream, the Sheffield, U.K.-formed/London-based duo of Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson has ghosted in and out of popular consciousness since 2006. At times, their chiming indie pop quivers neck hairs with spellbinding swathes of emotion, but it's always had the capacity to dissolve unnoticed into the background.
In 2007, indie gained itself a new power couple. Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson brought with them kitchen sink musicality, cutesy harmonies and videos packed full of balloons, fairground rides and roller skating. Slow Club's Yeah, So was a break-through record that brought with it some of the most heartbreaking tales of young love, teamed with gorgeous acoustic licks and bedroom pop aesthetics.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Where Slow Club are concerned, that old Woody Allen chestnut springs to mind; "a relationship is like a shark - it has to keep moving forwards, or it dies. " Since releasing their debut full-length, Yeah So, in 2009, the Sheffield duo have approached their music with relentless appetite for progression, one that suggests they're desperate to ensure that - unlike Allen - they don't end up with a dead shark on their hands.
Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson, the Sheffield duo who record as Slow Club, have a knack for patient, confident evolution. Their debut, 2009's Yeah So, was a collection of peppy, straightforward folk-pop that earned the band comparisons to pairs from the White Stripes to the Fiery Furnaces; by 2011, they had moved on to a richer, more tonally diverse sound, one captured by their strong sophomore effort Paradise. The band's new record, Complete Surrender, continues their developmental trend: Taylor and Watson have taken a large, proud step into the world of soul.
Given how much our musical tastes change and develop as fans and listeners the older and – theoretically – wiser we get, it’s frustrating how content some artists seem to be to repeatedly plough the same furrow. There are obviously reasons for this, from not wanting to alienate a loyal audience, to fear, to deciding that’s the best way to make cold, hard cash, but if we advance, surely we want our bands to as well? It was pointed out to me this week that One Direction have been together for four years, which is the same amount of time it took The Beatles to get from Love Me Do to Strawberry Fields Forever. It may not be a precise like-for-like comparison but it does point towards a larger trend about musicians seemingly accepting stasis.
The third album by Sheffield twosome Slow Club continues the British duo's expansion from agents of winsome folk-pop to evolved romantics with a set of torchy songs and break-up ballads that exude the moody spark of classic Northern Soul. It's a long way from the sweet acoustic tales of young love and bouncy, Spector-ish pop of their 2009 debut Yeah, So? It's a sound they flirted with on 2011's more confident follow-up Paradise, but it's delivered here on Complete Surrender with more subtlety and aplomb thanks to producer and Richard Hawley co-conspirator Colin Elliot. The band is comprised of singers and multi-instrumentalists Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson who, in the past, have let their songs wander freely with either a minimalist acoustic guitar/vocal arrangement or an all-in electric, garage rock whomp.
Coming on like Sheffield’s very own two-person take on The Commitments, Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor’s third album sees them loading up the big soul guns for a shot at the mainstream. On their first LP away from indie Moshi Moshi, Slow Club are now packing a string section and perky brass army, some heavy heartache and, in Colin Elliot, a producer that made his name working with the North’s king of sweeping orchestral sound and greaser-blues, Richard Hawley. It’s a tack that brings with it varying degrees of success.
The Sheffield duo's third album finds them on fine form on 11 tracks that range from 60s beat-group fare (Suffering You, Suffering Me has shades of Duffy) to 80s mid-tempo synth-pop (Wanderer Wandering). Rebecca Taylor's voice is perfect for numbers such as the catchy opener Tears of Joy, with enough quirks and tics to set it apart, though Charles Watson's head tones have their charms too (acoustic slowie Paraguay and Panama); the close-miked Number One, where they join together in complex harmonies, is impressive. You get the feeling, from the difference between Taylor's soul-heavy songs and Watson's more contemplative, nebulous numbers, that the pair write apart; Colin Elliot, who has worked with Richard Hawley, is a good match for the material, and his production skills make a cohesive whole of the diverse strands.
This is the sound of simple, not-very-memorable folk songs blown up to the breaking point. Slow Club, which built its brand around fetching two-person ditties, has aimed for Spector-hood in this third full-length, loading unconvincing brass choirs, string orchestras and chiming bells to songs like “Suffering You, Suffering Me.” These blowsy big production numbers flounder under their own weight and sink, suffocating Rebecca Taylor’s girlish attempts at diva-hood. Let’s point an accusing finger at producer Colin Elliot for building up lush Motown arrangements behind the pair, Taylor and Charles Watson, the kinds of bluesy, brassy crescendos and saccharine string swells that beg for vocal grit as counterpoint.