January 29, 2010
In late 2006, Good Shoes cracked the UK singles charts with "All in My Head", a quintessentially British-indie slab of neurotic, spiky punk-pop. Further singles and chart appearances culminated in 2007's Think Before You Speak, a charmingly heartfelt album somewhere between a less insular Arctic Monkeys and a less caffeinated Futureheads-- romantic insecurities you could dance to in your trainers. When sharply accented singer/guitarist Rhys Jones sang, "Things were better when we were young," the future still sounded bright.
Now-- No Hope, No Future. The world has changed a whole lot since the mid-2000s, musically and geopolitically, and Good Shoes are probably being at least half-serious about their sophomore album's title. The London four-piece are confronting the same boring bummer as so many others in this "new 'normal'" economy. Success isn't as successful it used to be, you start growing old before you stop growing up, papa don't preach. What results is an album that sounds like the 00s even as its themes are solidly turn-of-2010. A darker album, a slightly clumsier album, but an album with strong unifying themes and a few songs worth stepping away from the bar for.
"Time may change me," sang Bowie, "but I can't trace time." Guess who was taking notes. Good Shoes are obsessed with permanence and flux, what's innate in a person and what might eventually turn sour: relationships, careers. No Hope, No Future's first single, "That's the Way My Heart Beats", bouncily blames the narrator's ongoing girl problems on something in his nature. By contrast, evocative finale "City by the Sea"-- as close as UK indie gets to power ballads-- is right there with Death Cab for Cutie's "Meet Me on the Equinox": "All I want's a little more time/ To feel your heart beat next to mine." Everything-- everything-- ends.
After a debut record wrapped up in girls and going to shows, Good Shoes deserve credit for continuing to sing about what they know even as that gets darker. "Times Change", an assault on cranky oldsters, has guitars neatly uptight enough for Field Music, and it's refreshingly difficult to figure out where to put the air quotes on tense relationship-ender "Then She Walks Away": "I know I should be the one to say those words/ Like, 'Times change, but I want you to stay.'" But gloomy quarter-life crisis songs leave less room for error, and even on the latter track, Jones sings contrived-sounding words about how his words sound "contrived."
When No Hope, No Future isn't staring glumly into the void, Good Shoes could be a whole other band-- the band of their debut, only more seasoned. There's the Chic-chic disco-funk of "Under Control", which would resemble Art Brut if Eddie Argos sang about sex addiction rather than impotence. There's also the sprinting release of "Thousand Miles an Hour", which functions almost like a surf-rock instrumental. On "I Know", Jones attacks zealots of all stripes with a sanctimonious certitude that would make Billy Bragg sound like Ghostface Killah if not for the half-winking title. It's been said the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. Yeah, but it's also been said, "Know thyself."