For those who consider popular music these days to be largely inconsequential and ephemeral, we've good news: GoodBooks have arrived, and they bring with them much invigorating roughage. A young four piece who, like REM before them, blend vigorously unlinear melodies with an unusually thoughtful lyrical slant, they are a modern day rarity: an outfit to sit up and listen to. There is depth here, and plenty of it.
The first few lines of their new single, Passchendaele, for example, go like this: Jack was born towards the end of the 19th century/He married his sweetheart at the age of 23/Shortly before the birth of their first child/He answered the call of duty. The song, named after one of the bloodiest battles of WWI, then goes on to tell the story of Jacks brief tenure in the army, which ends, in crushing predictability, with his death two years later, a bitter denouement that befell so many throughout 1914-18. The song finishes 20 years later with Jacks son meeting a similar fate in WWII with world leaders professing, Never again.
I felt that the themes expressed were as pertinent now as they were then, says singer Max Cooke, in explanation. Its not necessarily me pointing a finger towards our current involvement in Iraq, merely that I felt it a subject worth investigating.
It is safe to assume, then, that GoodBooks lyrical inspirations run deeper than just love and drugs and sex?
Absolutely, he says. There is nothing that frustrates me more than having to hear something on the radio that feels like it comprises of nothing more than a throwaway lyric or little in the way of real sentiment. For me, songwriting requires far more substance.
An unlikely statement for one as youthful as he, perhaps (he is just 21, and looks it), but then Max Cooke is no ordinary frontman, and GoodBooks are no ordinary new band. Born to music teacher parents (his father conducts the Royal Choral Society), songs became his abiding passion by the age of nine.
Ive always taken it very seriously, he says. Sometimes ridiculously so. I remember my older sister sitting me down years ago telling me she was leaving an earlier lineup of the band - much earlier; she was 11 - and I took the news like it was a very big deal indeed. But it was! It mattered so much to me, and I knew it always would. Yes, I did have a life outside music, but Ive never seriously planned for anything else being my life, just this.
The rest of the band - bassist Christopher Porter, keyboardist JP Duncan, and drummer Leo von Bulow-Quirk, all aged between 21-22 - each felt similarly motivated and, two years ago, they convened together in a studio for the first time to run through a cursory rehearsal, and ended up writing a song together, then another, and then another still. Buoyed with a rollercoasting sense of momentum, they were suddenly up and running with a musical skill and maturity that belied their tender years.
On their forthcoming debut album Control, GoodBooks comfortably establish themselves as the most arresting and idiosyncratic new band of 2007. They have the angular intrigue of that great-lost art rock act The Auteurs, coupled with the nervy eclecticism of Talking Heads at their peak. They write profound and involving songs inspired by Kafka, terrorism, the Bible and - why not? lesbian crushes, while musically their rhythms are sinuous and kinetic, with mournful trumpets and clattering, vivid percussion. They really dont do *ordinary* at all. Only Guillemots today come close in terms of a band so thoroughly in and of itself, and are consequently worth much more than mere cursory investigation.
Underneath the relatively complicated ideas that form most of our songs, Max says, I think we are still a very acceptable pop act.
Its true, Leo adds. We have potential for widespread appeal, I reckon.
Widespread, yes, and way beyond.
The members of GoodBooks have known each other for years, in some cases since nursery. Max and Leo grew up together in Sevenoaks, Kent, and quickly realised they shared a common bond, and similar tunnel vision.
We were naive, Leo says, but had an awful lot of ambition and a form of arrogance, Leo says, but then thats essential for any new band starting out, right?
It became an obsession, not just to write good songs, but great songs. For us, pop music has to have an idea behind it for it to have any real power. It cant just be *pop music*. It needs to be more, somehow. Ours is.
Securing the services of Christopher and JP in mid-2005, their first aim was to do it all themselves.
Wed all studied music at college, Christopher says, and wed put on gigs and DJ nights, so it felt entirely natural to start setting up our own label, too: Stitch Up Recordings.
But then, JP adds, we got our big break, and after that we never really looked back.
The big break came in the form of The Magic Numbers, whom GoodBooks had befriended a year previously at an early London show. The band were heading over to Gothenburg last year during their European tour, and required an eager young support act.
It was an amazing opportunity for us, JP says, and its been a major education ever since, because weve been able to watch everything theyve gone through. They are really good friends now, and full of good advice.
They soon inked a single deal with Transgressive Records, but were then later snapped up by Columbia, and promptly sent into the studio where Control was molded into vigorous life.
You know that things are going well in the studio when there is unbearable tension, says Leo with a smile. And there often was. But it was always constructive tension. We thrived off it.
The results speak for themselves, 12 songs, each of them gripping and vivid and uncommonly memorable. By the time the album gets fully under your skin and refuses to leave, you wont want it to.
Basically, says Max, we dont sound like anyone else today, and that can only be a good thing. We want to stand out, we want to be remembered.
Its a likely conclusion. Smarter than the average band, GoodBooks are also better than most.......[Read Less]