Sunday, 19 January 2014

Album of the Week #9

Artist: Milburn
Album: Well Well Well
Year: 2006
Label: Mercury Records

The fortunes of two Sheffield quartets, Arctic Monkeys and Milburn, are inextricably linked. It's perhaps not entirely foolish to suggest that if it had been Milburn who released their debut album at the start of 2006, as their Arctic compatriots did, then they could have been the ones riding on the euphoric indie wave of the mid-noughties. Indeed, it could, and probably should have been Milburn who released their record first. The band formed a year prior to the Monkeys, released their first demo two years earlier and their stock was such that they even invited Alex Turner and co. to support them on a 2005 tour.

Although the reasons why their debut album was allowed to take so long may be forever buried beneath other tales surrounding the Sheffield music scene, a critical reappraisal of Well Well Well suggests that it could simply have been a case of the right album at the wrong time. By October 2006, when the album was finally released, the country was consumed by Monkey-mania, with the Arctics getting ready to record their second album as fully-fledged superstars. Well Well Well did trouble the bottom end of the UK charts, at number 32, but by that point they may well have been seen by many outside of Sheffield as cheap imitators of their counterparts.

But enough of all the what ifs. The record itself draws immediate comparisons with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, but it should be reviewed on its own considerable merit. The title track is a barnstorming opener, as lead singer Joe Carnall snarls Well well well/Look at what the cat dragged in to a backdrop of furious guitars and pounding drums. Carnall recently opened his sold-out Christmas set at The Leadmill with the number, which shows its enduring appeal within his home city. The punchy Send in the Boys follows, with Carnall's catchy lyrics and likeable, Sheffield-afflicted voice soon coming to the fore.

Most of the tracks on the record follow a familiar, sub-three minute format, but it's always executed with a skill and songwriting craft that defies the young age of the songwriter: Carnall was just 18 years old when the album was released. Although the band clearly excel in this area, it is perhaps their lack of ambition which meant they never quite lived up to their early potential. Despite this, the quality of the album should, once again, be reiterated. In the midst of the plethora of indie bands that appeared in the mid-noughties, few were as tight, melodic and lyrically proficient as Milburn.

In the end, the differences between Well Well Well and Whatever People Say I Am are small yet decisive. Turner's lyrics are sharper, the choruses are more explosive and the musicianship is that little bit better. But that shouldn't take away from what is a remarkably accomplished debut album from a band who could, and probably should, have had so much more time to grow together. They disbanded in 2008, shortly after the release of their equally impressive second album.

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