“Like water through cracks, we creep and trickle-down”, sings Ian Hodgson on the opening track to the first Bradford album in over 30 years, very much summing up the underrated and “could’ve been” status of this newly reactivated British indie combo. Originally formed in Blackburn during the mid-80s, Hodgson and guitarist Ewan Butler were at the core of the band, who released their debut single ‘Skin Storm’ in 1988 to much acclaim in the UK indie scene.
One notable fan was Morrissey, who declared Bradford to be his favourite new band, an association which was rather apt considering their sound was somewhat reminiscent of The Smiths. Another link came in producer Stephen Street, who worked with the group on their debut album Shouting Quietly and issued it on his Foundation label.
However, the group’s emergence came at a transitional time for musical trends. When the album was released in the early 90s, people were now more interested in the Manchester-based baggy scene and the beginnings of grunge and alt-rock in the states. It was unlucky timing for this promising and well-loved band, who decided to call it a day shortly afterwards.
Fast forward 30 years, and with the entire musical landscape unrecognisable to the one that they departed from, the waters of time have brought Bradford back into activity once again. Initially born out of simple curiosity to see how they sounded all these years later, Bright Hours finds producer Stephen Street joining and to complete the group’s new configuration as a trio. As a result, we have perhaps a more stripped back record because of the five-piece now operating as three, yet here less seems to be more, and Street’s masterful talents as a producer was always going to make for a bold, sonically rich piece of work. The lack of music press hype makes for a more relaxed sounding record, where the excited naivety of their early work is replaced with far more reflective, world-wise depth.
The opening ‘Like Water’ is a definite stand out and delivers a grittier sound than those familiar with the group would perhaps expect. Moody, melodic and infectious, it serves as a fine intro, lyrically placing us exactly where this band find themselves after all these decades apart and making sense of their history. Musically, this is typically British guitar pop, not too far removed from the Lightning Seeds’ hooks and tuneful instincts. Taking an even further turn into heavier territory is ‘Down Faced Doll’, a song inspired by lyricist Hodgson coming across a creepy discarded doll in a ditch and seeing it as a metaphor for the present-day world we find ourselves in.
Brought to life by piano and banjo, ‘The Weightiness Of The Pointlessness’ is another song that deals with these troubling times, from the damage to society and mental wellbeing from social media to the “corruption and depravity” playing out in a world that seems to be at its mercy. In terms of sound, it’s not too far from the band in their original form, Hodgson’s delivery and outlook occupying a place somewhere between The Smiths and Elvis Costello. It’s a style carried brilliantly well into the effortless charm of ‘My Wet Face’, where the guitars are tidier rather than the bright jangle of old, and the hooks do all the work, making for an uplifting highlight.
Totally unexpected avenues are explored on the electronic haze and dub reggae funk grooves of ‘Present Day Array’, an odd diversion that is most welcome, sounding in places like it wouldn’t be out of place on an album by Gorillaz or even Super Furry Animals. Returning to another spell of reflection, ‘This Week Has Made Me Weak’ features the sort of remarkable wordplay that repeated listens uncover over time, encapsulating a familiar and relatable understanding of life’s mundanities in an accessible and tuneful way. Its crisp guitars and polished sound suggest the group may have stood more of a chance had they emerged half a decade later during the Britpop movement.
The subtle electronics and gorgeous shimmer of the title track accompany more lyrical observations and pearls of wisdom: “life is not a download, it’s a beautiful gift we’ve been given”. Another one of the LP’s highlights offers something anthemic yet understated, almost textbook indie rock elevated by the song’s natural growth, opening the second half of the album like a burst of beaming sun. ‘The Rowing Boat Song’ is made of darker stuff, spacious and soulful with a hint of Nick Cave-flavoured murder ballad noir. Simultaneously, ‘Feathers In The Fire’ is a melancholic yet uplifting harmonic indie-pop ballad that hits the mark very pleasantly, sounding very much like Bradford should do 30 years on from their last record.
Arguably the album’s hardest emotional punch is struck on the penultimate ‘Gave A Time’, a teary-eyed glance back at memories past, composed partly from lyrics penned in a poem by their late former manager. Set to a calming musical backdrop that enhances the feeling of faded memory, it stays on the right side of the sentimental and nostalgic, as does the closing ‘I Make A Fist’ which looks back into the mists of time, processes the fate of the following years and captures forward-looking energy. It’s impressive just how accomplished and assured many of these tracks sounds, and the sense of newly found purpose shines through.
Not just a band with an interesting story to tell, but the reawakening of the old magic that has finally found a comfortable and confident place in the present day. A strong set of songs and a case of unfinished business being resumed brilliantly.