Events over the past few days have made me think about whether you can separate the personal views and actions of music artists from their music. It’s one of the reasons I struggle to enjoy Blur having seen and read many accounts of Damon Albarn’s self-importance - an artist who worked with him described him less carefully as ‘a bit of a cock’. This dilemma was raised when I came to reviewing Surfer Blood’s latest album, 'Pythons'.
Some writers have lengthily covered the domestic battery accusations against frontman John Paul Pitts in their reviews. While importantly the accusations were dropped, you can understand why the critics have done this as many of the songs cover the tumultuous relationship with his ex-girlfriend, in particular 'Squeezing Blood' where Pitts sings “Damning allegations have come to light”. After some thought, it felt the right thing was to attempt to judge the music on its own merits, however tricky.
'Demon Dance' is an excellent album opener with an upbeat chorus that sets the mark for the style for much of the album. 'Gravity' and 'Weird Shapes' match its melodic prowess, producing a bouncy, bright beginning to the record. However, the clouds aren’t distant and 'I Was Wrong' is the first hint that there are going to be some bumps along the way, with Pitts repeatedly screaming the track title in an emo-esque way.
The jaunty 'Say Yes To Me' skips along similarly to the opening tracks, reinvigorating the record and suggesting to the listener that all’s well once more. However, the mood shifts once more for the final third of the album signified by a big shift in the tempo of the songs, beginning with 'Pins And Needles'.
Although Pitts’ vocal is relaxed and upbeat, the content of the lyrics is far more gloomy “Dampen my tongue so I can't taste the malice/Numb me from any regret”. By the album closer 'Prom Song', Pitts is a defeated man as he sings with a heart-breaking sigh the resigned refrain “I just can’t be bothered/I don’t wanna know”, despite “Something else being out there”.
‘Pythons’ sees Surfer Blood claiming the power-pop throne vacated by Weezer as the latter takes a breather. Although the lyrics reflect Pitts’ vulnerability and insecurity, providing an emotional heft to the album, it’s masked by the music which is remarkably assured and features many great hooks. Pythons is an addictive listen which will accompany many a summer road trip, although scratching beneath its shiny exterior may reveal more than listeners bargained for.
'Pythons' is available to purchase from amazon.co.uk etc. Find more info at surferblood.com.