This article was originally published to The Edge on 14th August 2016
Here’s how I imagine The Spitfires’ elevator pitch for A Thousand Times going down: “Imagine you’re standing in a lift listening to the tame, boisterous, and uninventive pop sounds of elevator music, timidly conducted through the air. Suddenly, the brakes screech, you judder to a halt, and the music continues; now it’s far louder. The sound of the brakes continues as you’re brought painfully slowly down the shaft in this metal torture box that refuses to give you the rapid and sweet release of death from an aural nightmare of the soul-crushingly boring, and the ear-splittingly horrific. We’re going to make an album out of that experience!”
When you realise that The Spitfires is in fact an independent, somewhat underground act, it makes so much more sense how something as bad as A Thousand Times could be made. Say what you will about record producers’ oversight causing tracks to become all too similar–in their cynical efforts to market a hit, at least they’re aware of what will and won’t work. They’re perfectly happy to give the public what the public seems to want. They’ve done that earlier in the year, with the strong marketing behind acts like Jack Garratt andEliza And The Bear. A Thousand Times tries to learn similar techniques, especially from the latter act: ‘On My Mind’ builds into its final hook with its lively, crowded instrumentation featuring heavy use of a horns section in a similar way to Eliza’s album opener ‘Friends.’ These instruments’ appearances in pop music were played out then, and their use here (not to mention the inclusion of violins on later track ‘Return To Me’) reeks of desperation. They’re futile efforts to cram ‘positive’ character into the tracks, despite the fact that the whole album needs far less instrumentation, not more.
Few of the songs individually are badly put together, but taken as a whole on the album they’re astonishingly repetitive. These guys can clearly play their instruments well, but they can’t orchestrate the different elements into a coherent, signature sound for a song. Second track ‘Last Goodbye’ begins with eight bars of a bassline and synths which, while somewhat overenthusiastic, is distinguished enough from the previous track to be promising. Once those eight bars are done however, all the other players come crashing into the musical party as if they were auditioning for the part of the Kool-Aid guy. It’s exactly the same trick played on the title track, which opens. Following song ‘Day To Day’ even has a guitar solo, not that you’d notice. The whole album suffers from the same problem: flat, overly bright production amounting to a cacophony where zero individual elements stick out. When the songs aren’t crammed fit to burst with dull melodies, the band members almost seem to be killing time until the singing begins again. ‘Open My Eyes’ has so many long gaps of bland guitar strumming that you can practically hear them counting the seconds down until they’ve made something long enough to fill a few minutes of radio airplay. It’s despicably dull, displaying an incredible lack of craft that’s usually only present on equally vacuous white person acoustic covers of actually interesting songs on YouTube.
Almost all of this could be forgiven. Sure, the melodies are predictable and uninspiring, but there’s a colourful energy to them that at least helps them pass by with little to no complaints. The lyrics are so bland early on as to sap your ability to pay attention to them further down the line, but hey, that’s pop music at its most mass-marketed, right? (And they’re bad lyrics: the hook of ‘Open My Eyes’ has the false intellect of a 12-year old with a thesaurus, rhyming “eyes” with “I’m becoming what I despise”; the title track’s focus on a junction/end point in a relationship is related through such sub-standard musical style that it’s hard to feel the emotion in the lacklustre lyrics–“Don’t want to face up to the facts/Can’t accept that you might not be coming back”).
However, The Spitfires has a saving grace, carving a certain way to go down in the hall of fame of bad music: lead vocalist Billy Sullivan. Sounding like a man with the gaping maw of a Muppet thanks to every word being sung mid-yawn, it’s truly, astoundingly bad, turning the irritating blandness of A Thousand Timesinto the sonic equivalent of a blunt knife to the skull. It hurts at first, but after several minutes of anger, you’re left waiting until the throbbing eventually ceases in death.
A Thousand Times is released on August 26th by Catch 22 Records