Inspiral Carpets were not the biggest band of Britain’s Madchester explosion in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but they gave the movement its definitive dance anthem. The band’s 1990 single “Commercial Rain” crystallized everything Madchester was about, at least where it counted most: on the dancefloor. Swirling and sinewy, it split the difference between hippie trippiness and punk simplicity. Mostly, though, it had a hypnotic hook that was more relentless than even the Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold” or Happy Mondays’ “Step On”, songs that are more widely recognized as embodying Madchester’s ecstasy-fueled zeitgeist. Inspiral Carpets were neighbors of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in Greater Manchester, but they always seemed from another place entirely: harder edged, more potently focused, and far less concerned with the finer frills of stardom. If the Stone Roses were Madchester’s Beatles, and Happy Mondays its Rolling Stones, Inspiral Carpets were its iteration of the Who.
Naturally, they were nowhere near as successful as their contemporaries; after a handful of modest hits, Inspiral Carpets broke up in 1995. They reformed in 2003, but seemed ready to collapse once again when longtime frontman Tom Hingley quit unexpectedly in 2011. The group instantly rebounded by recruiting their original singer, Stephen Holt, who had cofounded Inspiral Carpets in 1983 before leaving in 1989, just before they hit their peak of popularity. The result of that reunion with Holt is Inspiral Carpets—their first album in 20 years, and their first proper studio full-length with Holt at the helm.
The biggest difference is Holt’s voice itself. It hasn’t matured or strengthened since the band’s early EPs with him, back when they tended more towards organ-slathered garage rock than the funkier forms of Madchester. Where Hingley sang with understated soul and nuance, Holt is more or less an adenoidal punk barker. He knows two notes, one for each nostril. But where Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder compensated for a similar limitation by owning every square inch of his tuneless delivery and injecting it with brilliantly loopy lyrics, Holt just squawks. On “You’re So Good for Me”, he strings together empty banalities like “Something’s gotta give/ I’ve gotta keep on moving/ I’m struggling to be heard/ But my time is coming,” and instead of putting any conviction behind his salesmanship, he just reads the pitch off the page.
Being the most punk of the original Madchester bands, Inspiral Carpets should mesh beautifully with Holt’s raw vocals here, but the music behind him doesn’t do him any favors. “A to Z of My Heart” trots out every organ riff that ? and the Mysterians and the Music Machine used, making them sound tired instead of tense. What was once impassioned homage now sounds like simple muscle memory. “Let You Down” is one of the album’s few triumphs of appropriation, with a generic, “Gloria”-as-played-by-Ray-Manzarek vamp played by organist Clint Boon with a groovy fury, and a guest verse by grizzled punk-poet John Cooper Clarke that not only shatters the album’s tedium, but also echoes one of Inspiral Carpets’ finest moments: enlisting fellow Mancunian Mark E. Smith of the Fall to wax avuncular on their 1994 single “I Want You”.
Beyond that, only the spirited, psychedelic chug of “Spitfire” and the handclap-catalyzed go-go of “Hey Now” come close to clicking with—let alone recapturing—any portion of the band’s former glory. The remainder of the record is filled out with either bland mediocrities or downright embarrassments such as “Flying Like a Bird”, a sappy ballad that sharply delineates every weakness Inspiral Carpets has, from a dearth of energy to a lack of melody. Strangely enough, one track from this Holt-led album goes out of its way in an attempt replicate the group’s Hingley-era, Madchester peak. “Forever Here” is the only stretch of Inspiral Carpets that dares to be funky, and for a fleeting three-and-a-half minutes, the acid-punk specter of “Commercial Rain” rears its majestic, genre-defining head. Then, it’s gone.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1pJWa8p