Release Date 02/08/2010 (Concrete Recordings)
By Joss Worthington
I’ve got to be honest, when it comes to music I’m more of an escapist. Far off and unfamiliar lands always seem so much more romantic than dreary Britain. Which isn’t to say that I’m not fond of dear old Blighty, nor am I not proud to be British. You just need a break from it sometimes.
Many bands over the years have tried to capture a sense of the British experience with varying success. Joy Division and The Smiths managed to capture the bleakness in a poetic way. The Cure perhaps represents our quintessential eccentricities. Happy Mondays offered their skewed view of unbridled hedonism, whilst Pulp and Arctic Monkeys articulated with immaculate literacy the kitchen sink dramas of everyday life.
Unfortunately there has been a load of shite too. After the aftermath of Brit Pop we have been left with the yearly spate of ‘Lad rock’ Liam wannabes. Most of them small town dreamers, all of them ‘mad for it ‘and usually posturing about their band being the best band in the world etc etc. A lot of them absolutely wank etc. One might be forgiven for initially mistaking Orphan Boy for one of those bands. Their press shots features three casually dressed lads in Fish and Chip shops and the like. They come from Cleethorpes but relocated to Manchester. I’ve never been to Cleethorpes but it’s on my list of places I think of when listening to Morrissey’s ‘Everyday is like Sunday,’ along with my home town of Halifax.
However, “Passion, Pain and Loyalty” thankfully offers something rather pleasingly different to my somewhat narrow expectations. “Letter for Annie” opens proceedings. Musically, it’s a bit like Orphan Boy’s answer to Oasis’ “Rock N Roll Star”, but the attitude is completely different. There is no sense of a swaggering delusion of grandeur here, just heartfelt passion.
“Pop Song” ditches the guitars in favour of anthemic synth pop and continues to reveal lead singer Rob Cross’s rather wry lyrical prowess, illustrating his frustrations at clueless A&R hacks.
“I sold my only pop song, to the boy from EMI. Who fiddled with his scarf, licked his lips when he told lies. I sold my only pop song for a handshake and a line but something in my heart, weighed so heavy on my mind”.
“Harbour Lights” has an intro reminiscent of The Smiths ‘Please, Please, Please’ and a similarly bleak yet poetic outlook.
“We will die under provincial skies but will our spirits remain in the terraced houses where we’ve slept all our lives, where we ripped out our hearts to make them beat once again”?
By now it’s pretty clear that Orphan Boy is clearly not just your average lad band at all. There’s no dreaming of the big time here – more soul searching in their own back yard.
“Some Frontier’s” Burundi tribal rhythms recall Adam and the Ants or even “Wild in the Country” by Bow Wow Wow – though the subject matter of lost sons and daughters fighting in the forces is far from new romantic. It’s the kind of subject matter that is usually reserved for the front pages of the Daily Star, yet Orphan Boy seem to possess enough earnest charm to pull it off without sounding too jingoistic. “Anderson Shelter Blues” repeats a similar formula although not quite as catchy.
For a three piece they do a good job of getting plenty of variation in their sound. “The Promise” again utilises keyboard textures backed by the ever present driving rhythm section.
“Untitled 9” employs the Burundi beat maybe one time too many and although “A180 Song” ends the album on a downbeat mood, the journey of “Passion, Pain & Loyalty” feels complete.
There is indeed plenty of passion, pain and loyalty evident on this record. There is a sense throughout that the chips are against Orphan Boy but they don’t care. In an increasingly fickle music industry it’s refreshing to see a band that are not trying to be anything but themselves.