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Good Shoes - Think Before You Speak

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Artist: Good Shoes

Album: Think Before You Speak

Label: Brille

Review date: Mar. 10, 2008

Got room for another jittery, jangly, British band? Still hankering for one more passel of skinny boys with hair flopping in their eyes, singing mordant love songs and callow social criticism, while conjuring the ghosts of Orange Juice, Fire Engines and the English Beat? Did you somehow miss the Gang of Four overkill that followed Franz Ferdinand's runaway success, so that swooning pop braced with barbed and stinging guitars sounds fresh and new?

Well, climb on board, because London's Good Shoes have another record for you, and it's quite good…if you're not sick to death of all this, that is. I’ve personally had a lengthy detox, and don’t mind the clank-clank-clank of woodblocks or abrasive bursts of guitar that launches "Nazanin," Think Before You Speak’s opening track. The whole song is hair-grabbing, head-banging distraction, evoking exactly the sort of brain spasm that ensues when a girl in a miniskirt walks by. The anxiety is palpable and almost pre-verbal, with the verse coming in only at the very end. Even then, it’s hard to think straight, and thoughts must be re-stuttered, repeated, revisited. "All of my insecurities…" rattles singer Rhys Jones, four, five, six, seven times, before he can even move onto the next phrase. "Are summed up…" By what? That'll take several more iterations and, in fact, won't come until the very last instant of the song. Because when Jones finally spits out "When you walk into the room," the band pulls up hard, slamming into the dead wall of the song's ending. It's short and sharp and fantastic, and its combination of angst and romance and short-circuited intelligence a harbinger of the rest of the album.

Later songs turn sleeker, almost New Wave, and a good third of this album could be slipped onto that NME C81 tape, say in between the Specials and the Buzzcocks, or splitting Josef K and Blue Orchids. There's a whiff of ska wedged into the clamped opening riff of "All in My Head," and a series of chords and the beginning of the album’a highlight "Morden" are more Joe Jackson than anything on this year's Rain. The ultra-romantic, youth-mourning "Sophia" has the same easy longing as Modern English's "I'll Stop the World." It's instantly familiar to anyone who's spent time with early MTV bands, yet unstudied and fresh enough to not seem referential.

The band was birthed in 2004 by its two songwriters, Rhys Jones and Steve Leach, and their interplay on guitars is one of the distinctive features of these songs. They intersect more than they play together, one riff flicking out and retreating, to be answered by a complementary, not quite similar one. Jones additionally handles the singing, mostly biting off lyrics in a percussive chant which fractures one-syllable words into shorter bits ("I-I-I-I-I....break your heart," in "The Photos on the Wall.") Still he occasionally slides into Morrissey swoon, layering unexpected sentiment onto these austere and non-committal songs. For example, "Sophia" wanders disconnectedly over a remembered landscape of clubs and bands and girls, but turns to melting nostalgia in its chorus of "If you go back / to where we first met / it will only break your har-har-heart."

No band like this can do without relationship songs ("Sophia,” "Blue Eyes"), yet some of the best cuts here are social satire. "Morden," which commemorates the band's home, is lush and evocative as it conjures simmering violence and dead-end exurbia. There's a skinhead in a Burberry coat, a KFC, a suicide and a car crash – no one is idealizing this hometown. Yet, while "Morden" filters contempt with affection, "Things To Make and Do" sneers outright. It's a portrait of a self-righteous, PC'er, who volunteers, "I travel on public transport / I don’t agree with cars / Public education makes me sick / Whatever happened to equality / I’ve got no time for my TV." The song is delivered so matter-of-factly, it’s not immediately clear if it's satire or a statement of credo, until the lyrics go over the top.

Think Before You Speak took its time (almost a year) making it to our shores from the UK, where bands like this are thick on the ground. Still, it's a good deal more nervous, more romantic and smarter than the horde. Fun stuff, better than it needs to be and better than the bands it will almost certainly be compared to.

By Jennifer Kelly

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