Sometimes what an album is NOT is just as important as what it is. This certainly rings true for the debut album from Ireland’s Little Matador… but just what do I mean by that glib and perfunctory remark? Read on dear reader…
The band features members from Idlewild, LaFaro and Bell X1 and is fronted by none other than Nathan Connolly: guitarist & backing vocalist with Scottish popsters Snow Patrol. Unfortunately the latter are oft regarded as talented yet unadventurously mundane and tantamount to a fawning U2 cover band… a point of view this reviewer shares to be brutally frank.
The good news is that this eponymous debut sounds nothing like Snow Patrol… or even any other assemblage of the sum of its parts. It’s much more a straight ahead rock record than one would have expected given the personnel… and this suits me just fine. Kicking off (almost literally) with the metronomic stomp-along rhythm of “Stitch Yourself Up” the album takes zero time to convey what it’s all about: the kind of fuzzed-out, slow-burning swagger employed similarly by the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, DZ Deathrays or Queens Of The Stone Age.
Mention of other bands rocking this kinda vibe brings me neatly to the point that this disc ain’t all that original. Its pentatonic blues based melodies and harmonic progressions are fairly predictable, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with sheer infectiousness and some pretty clever touches which take a few listens to get your head around.
Preventing it from merely collapsing at the feet of Messrs AM & QOTSA are the understated piano and keyboard parts which add some cream on top of the fuzzed out rock & roll cake. Add to that some nicely executed reverb & delay effects and you’re presented with a slightly ethereal and at times unsettling vibe. “Give & Take” is a good example of the band taking their collective feet off the go pedal and letting the production breathe a little. Moments like this provide an essential counterpoint to the more up-tempo fuzz-punk numbers like “Boom Boom” and the promo single “Liar Liar”… and to be honest the slower, smouldering & more phlegmatic tracks are probably the most interesting.
Connolly’s slightly imprecise vocal delivery gives the impression he’s struggling a little with handling the lead duties, (See track 2 “Reasons”) but it’s not jump-out-of-the-speakers obvious and for the most part he does a more than adequate job. There’s not too much else to mention in the musical performance stakes, with each member holding down his post nicely.
Standout tracks are the lysergic angularity of “Cheating Heart” which wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on QOTSA’s sophomore masterpiece ‘Rated R’… which, coming from this QOTSA fanboy is high praise indeed. The aforementioned “Give & Take” is the chronological centre point of the disc and is smooth & lilting… and just a little spooky, but possibly the best track present (and certainly my favourite) is “Shatter”: an eminently catchy slice of pop/rock goodness steeped in the shadow of dusk that keeps you coming back for more again and again. And therein lies the real strength of this record: it’s catchy as hell and the melodies & choruses will be rattling around inside your head for days on end.
Though originality isn’t its strong suit, Little Matador’s eponymous little debut rocks, simmers & glides in equal measure, is undeniably catchy, and is infinitely more interesting and enjoyable than the products of Connolly’s day job in the drab Snow Patrol.
Vive la différence…