It has been a long journey for The Milltown Brothers. Formed in the late ’80s the band is releasing their fourth album, Long Road on July 31st. The band is best remembered for their 1991 LP Slinky. Theirs is a sound that blends 80’s English Pop with the Byrds and REM’s guitar jangle. Their influences spanned from The La’s, Waterboys to the Manchester scene.
The band’s original lineup is still intact and returns, with Matt Nelson on vocals and guitar, his brother Simon Nelson also on guitar, James Fraser on bass, Barney Williams on organ and piano and Nian Brindle on Drums. Long Road was recorded in both Spain and the UK with producers Mark Jones and Mark Phythian (Coldplay), and was written over a period of two years.
The group came out of the gate with the likes of The Charlatans, The Mock Turtles and New Fast Automatic Daffodils. At one point they were touted by NME as the next up and coming group, and things for a time looked up with the success of their 1991 album Slinky. That album produced three singles Here I Stand which peaked at #41 on the UK singles chart, Which Way Should I Jump and Apple Green. Vast changes in the British musical landscape and the eventual implosion of corporate music paradigms in the late ’90s did little to help the band to the next level. The band would release the follow up to Slinky with Valve and Rubberband in 2004 to modest acclaim. Shortly afterwards the band then went on hiatus as life necessarily moved on and Matt Nelson moving into visual effect film production as a career.
Two years ago The Milltown Brothers members reconvened to bat around ideas and jam. This led to the eventual release of Long Road. Nelson said of the reformation,” We’re not young budding guys out to forge a career. It’s not about that; it is about being together doing songs we really enjoy.” A fitting sentiment for Long Road as it has the feel of musicians comfortable in their own skin not striving to impress the hoards but instead making music they love and enjoy making. The album starts with the title song, it has a definite mellow country meets the Byrds vibe. The steel guitar performance is the backbone of the song. The song is organic and forthright and has the feel of a summer back porch ode. The lyrics speak to fidelity and commitment; a love song not filled with tempest but about how love exists in everyday life. Part of Me follows Long Road and is a more upbeat number. It is another song about how much another person can mean and how they complete the puzzle that is love. It features beautiful harmonies and a great guitar jangle.
Bad Un takes a turn away from the soft and comfortable with a dark song where the protagonist is a bad apple, with bad antecedents that unfortunately bring forth tragedy, with lyrics like “I was born to die… I am sorry I killed you.” It reads like a prison house confession and it quite unsettling and unexpected when considered with the rest of the release.
Moving away from that dark moment is a bit of fun with Rockville a song that could be a companion to REM’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville”. In the song, the band is going back to the town in question, and if you are familiar with the REM song it is quaint to hear a rejoinder to that song. Rockville is bright and energetic with a definite country-rock feel. Portrait is another straight forward heartfelt tune. The song is both melancholy and bittersweet as it centres on found photographs and cemetery markers. “The past calls to us with the stones… If you listen you can hear them call.” Don’t Go Crying is a companion piece to Portrait and deals with sorrow and loss, and feels like a lullaby of sorts with the lyric, “Don’t go crying everything is alright…from the darkness comes the light.”
The band again switches momentum with the single Hideaway which is more in keeping with their work off Slinky, harkening to the days of the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses. It is energy filled and has a nice groove. It is the highlight of the album.
Solitude and Boy Kisses the Girl are both a little lacking in development. Solitude is a rumination on being alone and loneliness but the track is missing something. Likewise, Boy Kisses the Girl is sweet in its examination of the journey through a relationship and how it all starts off, but again is missing that extra something and possibly needed more time to develop. Perfume is a bouncy rock out and conveys all the thrill of anticipating a night out on a date and what comes after. The final song Alive is a traditional love ballad. You get the feeling that Matt Nelson is really in love with his significant other. “When we are together I feel alive.” It is a lovely piano ballad and a beautiful way to end the album.
Long Road is a mature entry illuminated throughout by the experiences of life. It is earnest and heartfelt as it highlights the little things in life that make it special and a life worth living. It is a lovely collection of songs worthy of a lulling Sunday morning in the summer.