Man Alive by Everything Everything | CD review


You can imagine all four of Everything Everything being told repeatedly not to fidget as children. Manchester-based, but hailing from realms as far apart as Newcastle and Kent, Everything Everything are one of those squirming, convoluted art-pop bands that Britain's churning cultural centrifuge throws out every so often – like Foals, or north-eastern arrhythmiacs Field Music, or Friendly Fires. With blokeish indie rock in recession, erudite boys with fringes are enjoying their moment in the sun. If XTC – the spiritual progenitors of so many of these bands – had a penny for every mannered vocal that has been sung to mathematical funk rhythms this last decade, they would be on picking-up-tab terms with Croesus.

Like their fellow travellers, Everything Everything scorn the obvious. Why play four-four when your rhythm section could try to emulate the sound of a marching band skating on quicksand? Singer Jonathan Higgs is the north-easterner trying to cram as many syllables into a line as a rapper, while sounding like a choirboy eating a dictionary. And then there are the massed falsetto harmonies cascading around him, a vocal style of choice for young men so evolved, they don't need to flaunt their secondary sexual characteristics.

That said, Everything Everything have become notorious for asking "Who's gonna sit on your face when I'm not there?" on their early single "Suffragette Suffragette" (officially, it's "the fence"). What is so unexpectedly delightful about their long-awaited debut album Man Alive is how base this notionally highfalutin band can be.

They operate simultaneously on several registers. "MY KZ YR BF" deploys references to Faraday cages (they block electromagnetic interference) but the song seems to be about being caught in flagrante delicto. "I wonder what happened to your boyfriend," sputters Higgs, "cos he was looking at me 'like woah'." "Two for Nero" is a standout harpsichord ditty that finds Everything Everything "crouched round the Game Gear/ Like Sega never died."

Even better, Everything Everything have greedily absorbed the production values of mainstream R&B. This album's opening triptych of superior songs belies extended exposure to precision-tooled sex-music. The terrific "Schoolin" remains their most delicious offering, with its flirty keyboard whistle and irresistible sense of pace.

Everything Everything's subversion of R&B is really far more clever than all the foursome's other melodic twists and feints – a powerful undertow that could have ultimately bracketed them with bands like the xx. Disappointingly, Man Alive jacks its body less and less as the album moves on.

The band are at their least successful when conforming to angular, try-hard type on tracks like "Come Alive Diana". Token controversial reference? Drummer falling down stairs? Soft rock chorus? Check. But they do simplify beautifully.

"Leave the Engine Room" is one of a handful of iridescent, calmer tracks where Higgs hangs around on a lyric. "And if all the boys say you did it/ And all the girls say you did it/ Then man, you're as guilty as the ones that came before," he croons. People might be drawn to Everything Everything for their refusal to sound obvious, but they will stay for this band's mastery of the basics: grooves and feeling.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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