There's more to life than love, but there's not enough without it. When you walk your life pulled by a finer gravity, keen to the sadder parts of darkness, convinced of my first sentence, it must be hard to not write songs like this. Songs with melodies, sad songs with basslines, songs with lyrics, each one as perfect as water. Not that I know if Joe Brooker or Stephen Troussé (The Foxgloves) live such lives; not that I even care about the dry, dull, messy facticity of their real, actual lives at all. I'm not here to tamper the facts into a convenient shape, not here to marshal some standard of intent, purpose or belief, but here to listen in for fictions: 1. the sound of them lying down in the run-out groove, their audible satisfaction; 2. Etc. Here to imagine a number of lives out into existence for each of these Foxgloves. (That's what I like to do sometimes.) Imagination letting me much closer to some truth, understanding, contentment.
They've put him on their cover, so it's OK to let him out in here ladies and gentlemen, Roland Barthes: "If I like a record, if it disturbs me, I linger over it. What am I doing, during the whole time I remain with it?" I listen to it, I scrutinize it, as if trying to understand what brought it here, or who. I've found recently I never listen straight at it, though, but through it. When I gaze at an image, in an oft-futile attempt to strike up a dance, it's the picture, not the artist, that I'm always looking for. My struggle to identify, then, is peculiar to records. Or, rather, a particular type of record: that which is textual more than textural, read more than heard. This is such a writerly record (the Barthes iconography, the Theresa Tzara short-story sleeve note, foregrounded lyrics, Morrissey cover, Auden references, etc.) but different. Here, it's not easy to forget their music and swim around in the words and pictures the music is augmented by the writing, text and texture blurred into a whole.
The first track's clunky bassline leads from where the cover's flat pink left off, framing this love's beginning. Stevie sounds almost like the Field Mice's Michael Hiscock, that same deep voice edged in trepidation and worry as it wavers in trying to sustain. Johnny Marr plays lead guitar, shouldering up the path alongside Stevie's singing, doing everything but lead with a coolly languorous sense of purpose. (When I played The Foxgloves' Morrissey cover "I Know Very Well How I Got My Name" to my big-Smiths-fan friend, they convinced him Johnny Marr was on guitar). This is all lit up by some touches of backing vocal here and there, hollowpoint, tonguey singing like Stuart Murdoch's, all throat and wind, light, not heat. When the lead breaks off into a sob (a solo) it's more as a question than an affirmation, answered with repose by the bass playing the main melody, the lead nodding gentle acquiescence in the background. These are songs so composed, songs so beautiful, songs.
The little vignettes here deal in poetic shrift with the regret in regret, the polyvalency of possibility, the transformation of "inevitability" through the slippery lens of retrospection, love. It's almost a shame that the metaphor-heavy writing is overshadowed by an unfortunate choice of cover song. The aspic edge of Morrissey's so-slight mourn helps The Foxgloves upstage themselves. Which may be an unfair thing to say since The Foxgloves are a different kind of writer (fuller lyrics, richer in detail, as opposed to Morrissey's delight in bitter-sad towel-whip sparity). Morrissey's stories were always self-involved and self-deprecating, but The Foxgloves write away from themselves out into romance and lost lives. "Almost a shame" because I don't think they'd have much truck with me saying Morrissey is a better writer though, huh?
It's not quite to the level of miracle, but it's a quaint and convenient coincidence that "Barthes" anagrams readily into "Bathers," an Edinburgh 106-piece fronted by a similar marble-voiced croak-lure. Both bands are close in sensibility: romantic, literary, ingrained in their cities, deep-voiced. I bet they both like the idea of Frank Sinatra or Paul Buchanan or Francis O'Hara (or Fred Astaire?). And poetry. It's from The Bathers' "Huntly in Love" that I'll steal my ending because endings are important for stories, as we have here on this EP. Today as I set to finishing this review, Glasgow seems young, with new love only just begun, I'm sat high on Dumbarton rock on such a beautiful afternoon with a sky so gorgeous I'm tricked into thinking it can only be a machinery to make me put my pencil down but I don't. I write and write and enjoy The Foxgloves.