I'll start with an admission: my compact disc collection needs another johnny-come-lately example of this particular new-wave revivalist subgenre like I need an aperture in the cranial cavity. Very good though a lot of it's been, I've had more than my fill over the past couple of years.
But, but, but...this record is good. Very good indeed.
The debut disc from this Birmingham-based foursome isn't going to shock anyone stylistically; in fact, the first 8-16 bars of the opening track "Lights" are likely all the convincing you'll need to file The Back Room between the last Interpol record and The Killers' Hot Fuss on your cd shelf (I've done a few reviews on topic, so I won't bore the tits off you by going into all of the influences of the influences--oh wait, here's another). I don't even think it would be unfair to call the record derivative. So, what is so good here? It's useful to define the band's strengths in negative terms: less sepulchral and wearisome than Interpol, less stridently commercial and faux-ennui-laden than The Killers, less young man sturm-und-drangy than Bloc Party. What's left is incredibly tight songwriting, sound and performance, and a record that for the genre is frighteningly easy to listen to. It also ends better than it starts--excellent.
The album's sound is spacious and warm and covered with a modest layer of reverb. The instrumentalism displays good taste, rather than idiosyncrasy: rigidly metrical and ringy upper-range lead guitar ("as was the style at the time"); springy bass, often in the fifths and octaves new wave/disco style; and drums that efficiently hop along on the up-tempo numbers ("Blood")and create good and stuck-in grooves on the mid-tempo ones ("All Sparks"). Singer Tom Smith sounds at times like a composite of others' timbres and mannerisms, most notably the Interpol guy, The Chameleons' Mark Burgess (the breathy upper-range in "Fingers In The Factories"--frightening!) and Ian McCulloch (other comparisons being made to Echo and The Bunnymen in the press are IMNSHO bizarre) ; mostly, though, he's a pleasing if range-limited blend of crooning and declamation. The lyrics sing well but they won't be winning any Pulitzers.
The Back Room's a very strong set, with only the standard-issue misery-guts "Fall" drawing my index finger toward the fast-forward button. My favourite three tracks are one each fast, mid and slow: "Munich," the obvious single and catchy as hell in an Interpol/Killers kind of way, but livelier; "Bullets," the loudest thing on the album, with a chunky groove worthy of the New FADs; and particularly "Open Your Arms," the climax of which'll send a shiver up your spine. If I can't think of too much to say about the rest of the material, it's because it's all really good, from the tough and declamatory "All Sparks" to the dreamy and expansive "Distance."
I'll never say that originality is overrated (promise!), but The Back Room is proof positive that it's not essential. Whether something so easy on the ear will end up having, erm, legs is open to question, but for right now, I'm happy. And that's what counts. Recommendation: high now; in a month's time..?