Adams returns to form with best album since halcyon days of The Broken Family Band.
It is now closing in on fifteen years since the much-loved indie rockers the Broken Family Band finally called it a day. Since then frontman Steven Adams has continued to pursue his own brand of alternative rock through a number of guises, initially as the Singing Adams while his most recent releases have been with his backing band the French Drops, the album ‘Keep It Light’, (2020) being his latest recorded offering. This new album is his third under his own name but the first since ‘Old Magick’, (2016) and marks the longest period between releases, partly due to the pandemic but also partly because this time Adams deliberately wanted to concentrate on each stage of the creative and recording process in a way he previously had not been able. The resulting outcome is an album with a greater cohesiveness and clarity than anything he has released over the last twelve years.
‘DROPS’, is co-produced by Simon Trought, whose has previously worked with the the likes of Johnny Flynn and the Wave Picture, and features a rhythm section of Daniel Fordham on drums and David Stewart on bass both formally with the psych oddballs The Drink, along with Laurie Earle on guitars and Micheal Wood on keyboards. Together they bring a high level of jagged distorted energy to Adams’ incisive lyrics and melodic sensibilities always finely balanced between the non-too-specific and the vague. The album opens with ‘Out To Sea’, a song of adolescent angst with Adams’ trade mark mellifluous pop hooks offering the perfect ‘juxtaposition. The following two tracks ‘Living In The Void’, and ‘Moderation’, deliver a nineties motorik underground rock vibe replete with driving guitars and hypnotic bass that helps create the sour against Adams sugar sweet melodies. The tempo is maintained with the infectious ‘Heads Keep Rolling’, and its repetitive radio-friendly chorus that infuriatingly gets permanently stuck in the mind. ‘Making Holes’, slows the pace with a refrain reminiscent of John Lennon and his ‘Double Fantasy’, album but alas without the previous melodic hooks it feels rather aimless which could also be said of ‘Fascists’, with its somewhat funereal disposition and indistinct lyrical narrative desperately crying out for a melody.
Adams is at his best when he combines his astute, razor-sharp and often witty lyrical narratives with a strong dose of irresistible pop immediacy that can be smothered in high energy indi rock overtones. Point in case is ‘Holiday Casuals’ with its acoustic guitar intro gradually building in musical urgency against a vocal delivery that hints at Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South, and again on ‘Pas Moi’, where Adams sings “maybe I’m not wired right”, with all the vitriolic defiance of a rebellious teenager while the guitar and rhythm section offer up their very best Sonic Youth impersonation. And yet, as the achingly beautiful closing number ‘Cheap Wine Sad Face’, conclusively proves the songs don’t have to be infused with high-energy alternative rock to show off Adams penetrating lyrical genius, as all that’s needed here is the sweetest of melodies to steer this track gently in the direction of alternative country. ‘I Tried To Keep It Light’ is a curio full of reflective implication, Adams sounding both self-critical and apologetic on a track whose title bears strong similarities to that of his most recent release hinting at a possible veiled connection. That suspicion is emphasised by this album’s title being the last word of his previous backing band, here having simply dropped the ‘French’. There again that could just simply be another consequence of Brexit.
With ‘DROPS’, Adams has delivered his most satisfying album since the heady days of the Broken Family Band, with the songs generally benefitting from being given the time to evolve organically, whilst his new found knowledge and confidence with home recording has given him the opportunity to treat the recording process like an artist’s canvas continuously applying paint until the right picture appears. This new album still displays all his previous lyrical nuances, clever, funny, inviting, but here they are structurally better housed making for a more complete and focused recording. Sure, not everything works but the bulk of this album is a resounding success and augers well for the future.