They brought out a greatest bits compilation last year entitled "We Are The Best". Hubris touching the virtual ceiling, their new album is called "We Are Nobody", released amidst rumours of a new, non-ironic angle. I read a year or so ago about the inevitable self-pitying slop that ironists like Beck will spew sooner or later: the idea being that such wacky post-modernists fall from Icarine skies to scrape the barrel of self-pity. The only thing they take seriously is their own misery. Hence, "Sea Change" - which I quite like.
But it seems that irony is not that easy to shake off.
"Rhythm King" opens with a mouth-watering, whistling keyboard riff and an appeal to "remind me where my heart is". But The Chap haven't lashed out with some acoustic downtempo moodwork. The second track, "What Did We Do?", suggests a late career crisis - "Writing's for cowards/Talking's for men/Cowards write songs/And never do what needs be done/What did we do here?" But there is no self-pitying lurch, the same metronomic discipline, the same tautness of rhythm and lyric is still there. The same sense of attachment, even if their gaze is turned on their own limitations.
"Everyone/All the same/All the time/This is how we are different" - I want to quote great chunks of their lyrics. Each word seems so perfect for the job, and delivered with a dry gravity that epic pop deserves. I'm getting carried away again. (Hope I don't have another nasty virus stealing over me.) I think I could be Roxy Music's cousin 'phoning them up to play them The Chap and reminding about "that new sound you were looking for".
I want to use the phrase "icicle funk" to describe "Curtains". I'll deny myself that pleasure. There's a great low-key, ghostly, baritone guitar solo that never builds up another steam to escape the mood. "Better Life" propulses with the usual busy bass business plus a wobbly, falsetto keyboard sound and concerns itself with moving on to a better place. In fact there are paranoid, tour-weary, corner-of-the-ear noises all over the album, which give me a sense of anonymous hotels with late night TV and ineffective curtains. The title track is about separateness, people devolving apart and that "everyone disappears". Masters of the Universe Bon Jovi stuff this is not.
"Hands Free" has a surging Status Quo quality with a gothic Stooges edge, the sound of boiling saxophones and the refrain; "Give me my life back/Or give me death." The album sounds like a goodbye to the life of a band. Many, many references to death and ends in the lyrics. "Look At The Girl" has spoken-word verses and a sense of Bobby McFerrin on the kind of drugs that would make him create music more like this sounds - fixating on a girl, maybe hanging around in the local park for an hour or two too long. And that becomes cruel joke about her "creating her own destiny", "coming out of nowhere" and being knocked down. Ouch.
"Painkiller" is also about death in the same uptempo, complicated way as on the rest of the album. I'm quite convinced now that it's them calling it a day, meditating on the mortality of ambitions and plans as much as of the body itself. The mix of sweet, dry vocals and quizzical, lyrical tones remind me too of a Dorset band, Betika, that you should track down. (Yeah, you with the sweater!) But above all this is not cheerful. This is considering the end of things, the end of The Chap.
I really hope they reconsider.
Rating: Pulling Magnificently out of The Race