Saturday, 18 January 2014

Album Review: The Rifles – ‘None The Wiser’ by Alt Sounds

When I think of The Rifles, I just think of Paul Weller before he realised he was an amazing guitar player, The Ordinary Boys before the Big Brother induced meltdown / combustion and very short fringes with mullets. I was a bit "take it or leave it" with them up until now, and I'd seen them live previously, this wasn't based purely on aesthetics or the odd single overheard. So, The Rifles are back on Cooking Vinyl, home to a favourite of mine – Antlered Man - amongst others. So, The Rifles are in good company. They're back not just on a new label, but with a brand new record, ‘None The Wiser’ too.

Starting with a prominent drum beat and dual guitar lines reminiscent of Bloc Party, the vocals of Joel Stoker remind you The Rifles are probably wearing Fred Perry shirts, and not ironically. It’s a cracking opening line too on ‘Minute Mile’, “I shouldn't ever be the one you’ve taken for a ride / and I should never be the one you wanna criticise”. The build up from here on is that of early 2000’s guitar-indie-pop, the formula that served so many bands back then so well – rudiments on the high hats, open them slightly, roll across the drums, everyone jumps in on vocals for the chorus, back to the main riff - I still like it! It’s a more grown up sound than their previous records, with a boyish charm in the form of Lucas Crowther’s guitar lines, an ode to early Weller and currently his younger prodigy, Miles Kane (without the swamp-like delay pedals all over the show).

‘Go Lucky’ is guitar-pop-by-numbers, referencing The Libertines, Ordinary Boys and the now long-time defunct Thee Unstrung. You wouldn’t be mistaken for listening to this thinking that this is 2004, Oasis were still churning our records and Tony Blair was still in charge (not of Oasis…obviously). Saying that, it’s nice! It’s a nice change to be reminded that Indie doesn't have to be gloomy - you don't need heartache and misfortune to write a good song. Uplifting although it may be, The Rifles do touch on their bad luck, but with a positive spin, and it’s a great example of what a lot of the thousand yard stare upstarts are giving us these days. It’s not a dancefloor belter like Franz Ferdinand, who also take a similar approach to their lyrical content at times, but it’s a great track.

That’s a theme of the record that I picked up on. No matter The Rifles misfortunes or shortcomings, they're quite happy with what they've got, and so they should be! The mod revival could very well be over once Paul Weller decides he’s had enough, so unless The Rifles or Miles Kane step it up a gear, that chapter of music may come to a close. With Mr Weller – aka The Modfather – lending them his studio to record’ None The Wiser’, no wonder they're so happy in the face of adversity. It’s the icing on their stripper-filled birthday cake, and the record is a testament to their approach, long-term effort and outcome of the record. It’s an all-rounder, even for the naysayers who aren't really into that kind of thing. Pretty sure my Mum would listen to this at least once.

The standout track for me, and one that is trumping Franz Ferdinand for dancefloor credibility is ‘Catch Her In The Rye’. Imagine a supergroup consisting of Weller, The Cribs and The Rifles then you've got this track. There are really fulfilling moments on the drum rolls which Steve Harris (producer) has brought out, and the staccato vocal track at 1:15 is absolute genius too. If The Rifles are not nominated for a Mercury Prize for that one bit of songwriting, then I don't know which way is up anymore. ‘Under and Over’ would probably be the encore from the Weller / Rifles / Cribs supergroup, and it closes ‘None The Wiser’ excellently. It’s an advance on 2004, but keeping spirits high, and keeping those tiny fringes in place but the mullets flying about.

It’s definitely a progression, and now as we approach the release of record #4, things are taking shape nicely. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Augustus had to wait for Caesar to die before taking his throne. The Rifles have a way to go before Weller either retires or dies onstage from endless touring (he won’t have a freak gardening accident will he, let’s be honest), but when that time comes, if they continue to improve at this rate, The Rifles will likely be in the right place at the right time. Just be cautious of the Liberators (played by the loveable Miles Kane in this scenario).

‘None The Wiser’ is out on January 20th on Cooking Vinyl.

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