“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
That is from one of the finest films Woody Allen has made in a long time, Midnight In Paris. It saw Gil, played by the excellent Owen Wilson, a man obsessed with the Paris of the 1920s, transported away in a car back to that very period. By experiencing his own dream of historical nostalgia, meeting Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein along the way, he is able to realise that his “golden age” is not everyone’s, and that romanticising the past is a natural result of dissatisfaction with the present. This historical nostalgia enables him to deal with his own personal nostalgia, and realise as good as his previous days were thing might just get better after all.
Nostalgia is rife in society, it has become an almost ridiculed thing, the “back in my day” brigade are rightly decried for not realising how good it is now, however to some extent we’re all nostalgic. By my calculations we tend to run roughly 25 years later, in the 90’s via Brit-Pop and Grunge we recalled the British Invasion acts and the early days of punk that ran through the 60’s and 70’s. In the noughties (eurgh, really we’re sticking with that term?) we had a host of, largely American acts, trying to sound like New Order and The Smiths, whilst a more interesting strand of bands aped the post punk of Orange Juice and Josef K. Which means now we should be creeping into grunge and revisiting the days of the likes of baggy rockers The Stone Roses. Well, The Stone Roses came back, and have you heard Temples? It might not be pretty but except a load of bands who sound like Oasis, The Spice Girls and, god help us, Aqua, to be filling your ear holes soon…or resist the urge for nostalgia and live in the present day with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen…oh wait….
ALLO DARLIN’ – WE COME FROM THE SAME PLACE
In a small corner of the world, known colloquially as the Indie-Pop scene, Allo Darlin’ are currently one of the biggest bands in the world. They headline festivals, draw the sort of adoration normally contained by the Take That’s of this world, and are signed to both of the biggest labels around, Fortuna Pop & Slumberland. If you extrapolated the number of people who attended Indietracks festival earlier this year who own an Allo Darlin’ T-shirt over the entire population, they’d have to be stocked alongside The Ramones and Rolling Stones in Primark to keep up with demand.
This sadly counts for very little outside of one weekend in Derbyshire. Thier second album Europe might have been a critically acclaimed, the 32nd best album of the year according to Metacritic, but it failed to dent the charts. This leaves them approaching their third album, still awaiting a breakthrough, still working full time jobs, and possibly starting to come to terms with the fact that they might never be able to do this full time. All of this uncertainty may well have played a roll in one of the major events that shaped this album. Singer, Elizabeth Morris, recently married her PhD studying partner and due to his educational commitments upped and shipped out to Florence. Hardly conducive to writing and recording a new album perhaps, but with much of it written prior to the move, it actually manages to give the album a delightfully complex emotional thread. For whilst the likes of Santa Maria Novella and Crickets In The Rain were written by a happily married Elizabeth soaking up the sunshine, culture and cuisine of Italy, there’s an all together more English melancholy elsewhere, the likes of History Lessons and Romance & Adventure are achingly sad songs, packed full with an implicit heart ache, at complete odds to the happiness and content elsewhere.
Wistful takes on romantic situations are quite clearly nothing new to the band, but there’s a sense that they’re refining that art, they’re now painting richer, more colourful and more beautiful portraits of relationships in all their gory detail. Whilst a track like Kiss Your Lip, from their self-titled debut, was a straight to the point tale of young romance, lines such as “I kissed your lips and they were kinda salty” lack the subtly that finds her now writing poetic lines like “first snows melting on the ground and I can see my breath in your silhouette and I remember what it felt like to be warm and to be safe in love” from We Come from the Same Place or “you can try and live in the moment, and I’ll contain my rebel heart ” from History Lessons.
Musically too there’s a subtle re-imagining of the sound, guitars that once simply jangled in the well trod sound of The Go-Betweens, are now more varied and far better played. More propulsive, grittier and just as dextrous as ever, Paul Rains seems to be taking the energy and brilliance of his live performance and recreating them straight to tape.
It’s not without faults. Take opening track Heartbeat, it seems to lurch in and out of time, the rhythm of the ukelele never sitting quite right with either the guitar or the the drums. Whether it’s the production or the playing that doesn’t quite meld together it all ends up sounding a bit of a mess, and all that before we even get to the attempt to rhyme bar and Jager-my-star. Closing track, Another Year, completes the bookending of the album with its two least impressive moments, the mix of ukelele and slide guitar just doesn’t work, it’s not awful, it just smacks of a need to fit a stripped back ukelele track on the record to keep fans happy, when you’ve written an album this good you don’t need a gimmick.
Elsewhere though there’s so many delights. Kings and Queens, already a live favourite, translates wonderfully to record. The bass lines propulsive and beautiful, the distorted guitar-solo bold and beautiful, and on top of that the lyrics are wonderful “in a dusty town of student bars, you sang your heart out to the drunken crowd, they can call us what they want, but we know we are the kings and queens of love.” It’s a gorgeous take on the life of the touring mid-level band, and there’s even a nod to the Inspiral Carpets mega-hit, This Is How It Feels To Be Lonely, whether they meant it or not.
The title track is in many ways classic Allo Darlin’ but it’s as good as they’ve ever sounded, the chorus soars out of a key change as Elizabeth pleads “please believe me, I’ve never said this before” and the whole thing bounces along at an electric pace on the back of some superb work from the rhythm section allowing the guitar to weave a musical tale Johnny Marr would be proud of.
The motown inspired wandering bassline of Angela, frankly begs for Bill Botting to be asked to take it for a walk, and lyrically too, it posseses the same underlying sadness that made so many of those great girl group hits of that era so enduring. “Lovers come and lovers go, I’d like to stay and I wanted you to know, oh Angela you were born with the darkest eyes that have seen it all, and the hardest thing we ever have to learn is when those we love” Elizabeth has the good sense to leave off the closing, don’t love us in return, because we already know what’s coming, and the tears are already building in our sad eyes.
The duet, Bright Eyes sounds so familiarly joyous that you’re convinced it’s a cover, but in reality is just a brilliant chorus you’ve always known but never heard before. The Twin Peaks inspired Half Heart Necklace is a roaring Brit-Pop track in the Ash mould, whilst Crickets in the Rain is a beautiful recollection of loves past and present and how “nothing feels the way it did before, and I am grateful for that, the truth is when I realised I loved you it was like everything I had ever lost had come back.”
Best of all though is History Lessons, a frantic ukelele is reigned in by a mournfully slow bass, as if battling for control of the tempo, both eventually loosing the battle to a simple mid-tempo drum beat and a gorgeously sad guitar. Lyrically it’s an incredible track, casting aside people and places in one triumphant throwing off of the shackles of nostalgia “This city has a memory, but it banks on its history. Places come and places close, I feel stronger letting go.”
There’s a sense of movement, and freedom on this album, new beginnings and new ideas, perhaps a stepping stone on the way to the next stage of their career, or just simply the best album of their career to date. However it works out crucially for all the people who already love them it’s a timely reminder that, Allo Darlin’ we feel better hanging out with you!
We Come From The Same Place is out now on Fortuna Pop (UK) & Slumberland (USA).
Allo Darlin’ are about to embark on a tour of North America, before touring the UK and Europe in November, including a date at London’s Scala on the 24th of November.