erasing clouds

ballboy, Club Anthems

reviewed by Dave heaton

If the title Club Anthems makes you think of dance music, don't be misled. In fact, just go ahead and set all your expectations aside; ballboy's ready to take you for a ride. The album opens with "I Hate Scotland," which puts lead singer Gordon McIntyre's spoken thoughts over a guitar-driven, keyboard-inflected rock groove that builds to a dreamy crescendo. McIntyre thinks aloud about how some days he'd give everything up for the ability to do a backflip--to feel something special--and voices what he hates about Scotland (the group hails from Edinburgh, Scotland). In the song he wonders whether the problem is Scotland or something bigger…and listeners will no doubt recognize the society he describes as their own, no matter where they live. "I hate the way people bring up their children to be exactly the same as they are just so they can justify the way they live their life," he says. Behind his thoughts is a deep desire to get beyond the rigidity of society, to do something special. That feeling is echoed by the expansive, beautiful music, which lifts the song up and away like the airplane shown in the album's cover photo.

ballboy's songs are about people and how we live, and about seeking a form of transcendence, or at least some meaningful human connections. They also transcend through their music: pop-rock that takes in so much--80's new wave pop, 90's "alternative" rock, the so-called "shoegazers," folk music--and puts it together as a unique style. There's an NME quote stuck on the CD cover as a sticker, comparing them to the Wedding Present and Belle and Sebastian. In a way that comparison's accurate--they do have a certain brash, snappiness in common with the first band, and both a quiet sense for beauty and witty, smart lyrics in common with the second--yet there's so much more going on here. ballboy play melodic pop songs that rock powerfully but also soar with graceful abandon.

Club Anthems includes ballads and rockers, songs that take detailed looks at particular people and songs that offer critical inquiry about how society is organized and how we live our lives. And at so many times, the group does all of these at once, taking a love song and using it to take on conformity, or using a relationship to get at deeper truths about human beings. "It's not the car you drive that's you/it's not the high-paid job that you do/it's not the house that live in/and it's not what other people think," McIntryre sings at the start of one song ("I've Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear"). Club Anthems is imminently quotable, but it's not just a sign of cleverness. ballboy's songs are witty, yes, but they also strike a real chord with the listener, tapping into each listener's own feelings, ideas and observations by offering their own.

"A Day in Space," the other song where McIntyre speaks more than sings, displays a passionate, almost obsessive desire to visit space. The theme of getting past our world is infused in this album at every step, all the way to the final track, "Leave the Earth Behind You and Take a Walk Into the Sunshine." That feeling that we're capable of more than we do, that things can change, that life is not all you see, that humans can find places that feel truly new, truly special…the feeling is what ballboy captures so brilliantly. And by doing so, they're succeeding at exactly that; they're bringing us to a new glowing place. Romantic, honest, funny, touching and sublime, Club Anthems is a treasure worth keeping close by, ready to visit at any time.


Issue 9, April 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds