Things were getting desperate: all of the food had gone, water rations were low, mass desertions from the front line and, worse yet, I'd written three reviews in a row for the Temple Of The Holy Sponge Of Malevolence where I was less than enthusiastic about what I'd heard. Desperate times call for desperate measures, my friends; not wishing to invoke the wrath of The Dark Overlord Of Brendanshire by churning out yet another barrage of negative comments, I viewed the last CD in my current batch with something approaching reverential awe and decided upon the only course of action open to me.
Gathering several close friends from the world of bacterial endurance racing (including Daisy Pomphrey-Smythe, champion jockey for the fourth time this year in the Streptococcus Half Mile Steeplechase), I knelt in prayer whilst burning several Barry Manilow fans at the stake. "Please, Lord," I muttered (I'd planned to do a bit of beseeching, but my beseeching trousers were at the laundry). "All I ask, as your humble servant and one-time polo team-mate of John Goodman, is for my next beat-combo type CD to be of my liking." Lo, the fire didst burn fiercely – so fiercely, in fact, that Daisy managed to roast several potatoes and three marshmallows.
I jest, of course. It's well known in pagan circles that Barry Manilow fans give off almost no heat. I'd actually used Slipknot fans – all that hairspray makes them go up like cordwood at the very mention of cigarette lighter fluid.
Whether His Satanic Majesty Brendan heard my pleas, I do not know. I slipped this week's offering into the CD player, closed my eyes (which, in the middle lane of the M6 motorway and doing 70-plus was perhaps a little beyond the pale) and trusted my luck. The initial strains of the first track from Seconds Before's album Further Destinations burst forth and do you know what? It's not bad ... in fact, it's quite good.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Seconds Before have been together since 1999 – and it shows. Lauded in their press release as being exponents of "power pop", they walk the line between all-out thrash and thoughtful rock as nimbly as a high-wire collective which is out to please the crowd and upstage the clowns below. Kicking off with the barnstormer Heart Of Concrete, Seconds Before set out their stall from the off. Fast-paced, tight and melodic and somewhat of a novelty these days ... a memorable hook. Lawks-a-lordy, yes - a chorus I could join in with on first listen. What will they think of next?
Well, what they thought of next was a rather lovely, reflective, synth pad intro, over sensitively picked guitars and sequenced drums, just before the track leaps into life and becomes the song Therapy. This is another good song which reminds me so much of several British post-punk bands, notably the exceedingly splendid and under-rated Icicle Works, albeit with more of a contemporary indie/American feel. Almost immediately, what strikes me about these guys is that a) they enjoy what they're playing and b) they enjoy playing together. Track three, Rearview does no more than reinforce the vibes I picked up on Therapy, although, again, they don't feel rooted in the early 80s.
Lord Brendan had indeed smirked, if not full-on smiled, in this Minion's direction.
Stop Not Starting carries on in the by now established vein of intelligent sounding pop-rock. I love the almost King Crimson-esque guitar in this song, laid as it is over some fairly straightforward 4/4 drumming. If Seconds Before attract the sort of crowd who indulge in the ancient art of moshing (invented by Rasputin, incidentally, during a quiet day at the palace in 1916), then this must get them going a treat. Sensible use of piano to add a melodic pause in proceedings, too, as does the delicate use of strings towards the close. Good stuff, lads.
The intro of Perfect Hand employs the technique pioneered by Pink Floyd on the haunting Wish You Were Here, i.e. the sound is crunched and compressed down to sound like a detuned radio, with attendant mistuned sounds before the main body of the song cuts in at about 500 miles an hour. Nothing special, but a good romp all the same.
Dear Lord…I'm onto track six and haven't found one I don't yet like. I gripped my effigy of Cindi Lauper ever tighter and ploughed on through Good Cop Bad Cop, a half-paced indie affair, with pleasing interplay between guitars, vocals and keyboards, the former acting as some lurking menace under a subdued verse. Possibly my favourite so far, although it's a close thing. This track has pinpointed one of the things I like about Seconds Before. Their vocal harmonies, whilst good and accurate, have a slightly loose feel about them, rather than the strictly regimented flavour so common in bands of the same genre. It adds to the human feel of this album.
Track seven, Keep Quiet is in the same mould as Perfect Hand. It's fast, competent, and well arranged, but not a standout track. Still good fun, though, and very listenable to these addled ears. Much the same can be said of track eight, which brings us Maplight. For the first time, the idea for this track seems a little stretched and samey. Full of energy, though. These lads must go down a shirt size during a gig. But I couldn't pick this track out as anything special.
The closer of the album is the acoustic piece Eyes & I, a pleasing ditty, even though the lyrics are a little maudlin. There are no credits on either the CD sleeve or the PR material, so I cannot name the vocalist when I say that this track allows the listener to truly appreciate his voice (I lie….I've just found them hidden away on the CD insert – Brian Larson is the chap on the larynx). Controlled, a great range and a good timbre. Most importantly, he, like the rest of the band, doesn't sound like a million others littered around the crowded land of guitar bands. They have what is known in Britain as "savvy". Whether this shrewdness is borne of their own weight of experience, their producer's guile or a heady cocktail of both is immaterial since it works.
And that, ultimately, is what separates the men from the Slipknot fans.
Should you buy this album? Well, as Tony Curtis once said, playing a Viking marauder, "Soytanly!". I promise you that you won't get bored until track eight and it's simplicity itself to skip this and proceed directly to track nine. Well done, Seconds Before. You have restored my faith.