The James Cleaver Quintet
That Was Then, This Is Now
31 October 2011
by Hugh Platt
I’ve been struggling to come up with a snappy turn of phrase to encapsulate this debut full-length from The James Cleaver Quintet. The thing is….I know what that turn of phrase is. I’ve just been avoiding it. I’ve been avoiding it because it’s one of those figures of speech that immediately marks the speaker out as a complete and utter tosspot. I think the phrase I’m looking for is “I guess I just prefer their earlier stuff”.
It’s not that That Was Then, This Is Now, lacks for ideas – it’s got a barrel-load more than most of the current British botherers of the front pages of Kerrang! and Rock Sound put together – merely that those ideas don’t have quite the same glinting edge of wanton disregard for convention that The James Cleaver Quintet used to display. There’s a greater emphasis on clean-singing now, which does admittedly grant them even more flexibility to flit between the many (many) melodies they pack each song with. And yes, there are still pockets of ferocity hidden in amongst them – ‘Don’t Just Stare At It, EAT IT!’ has a masterful passage of wild squarks and barks that matches anything we heard on Ten Stages Of A Make Up. But it’s not for nothing that the album’s title is That Was Then, This Is Now – The JCQ of 2011 is definitely a fair few steps removed from the one from 2009.
If we turn out attention to ‘Pink & Blues’, the only track that survives from the band’s early mini-album/EP, Ten Stages Of A Make Up. Sure, the newer version is a damn sight more polished than the old, and still features those rising drops that practically beg for a moshpit to rise up like a tidal wave before the chorus kicks in. The crisper production certainly shows off more of the subtleties of the band’s playing. But it doesn’t have quite the same frisson or fizzle that the rougher, older version did. It’s a feeling that permeates so much of this album – even now, as I try in vain to find the right words to describe exactly what secret ingredient is missing from That Was Then, This Is Now, I can still feel it’s absence at the core of the album.
Please don’t misunderstand – That Was Then, This Is Now has considerably more verve and flair than any of the clutch of t-shirt peddlers being held up as “The Future of British Rock”. The JCQ will no doubt find themselves paired up with these kind of bands, thanks to the inevitable “If you love this band, you’ll like these too!” side-bar features in rock magazines they’ll be unfairly relegated to. That’s a shame, because they’re better than that, much like it’s a shame That Was Then, This Is Now is merely a good record, rather than the great one I was hoping for. Because The James Cleaver Quintet are better than this too.
Sounds Like: The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster if they were forced to write the soundtrack to an American Pie film.
Top Tracks: Think Or Swim, Mock The Weak, Lower Than A Bastard