Thankfully normal life after being in a band did not work out for the members of Orphan Boy. The band after years of valiantly fighting the corporate music powers that be decided in 2011 to breakup. A year later Orphan Boy reconsidered their 2011 breakup and reconvened to record their third album. The resulting disc “Coastal Tones” arrives on May 25. “Coastal Tones” is the follow up to the stellar “Passion, Pain and Loyalty.” As lead singer and guitarist Rob Cross explains about reforming the group, “We tried to live normal lives for a year and failed miserably.”
On the rock family tree the band are the descendents of The Smiths, The Jam, Oasis and Arctic Monkeys. They extolled the features of small northern town provincial life. Their musical style earned them the moniker “Council Pop” as they showcased incendiary street smarts and an appreciation for the less heralded parts of the UK.
The premature demise of the group is an excellent example of the British Record Industry’s great tradition of neglecting the talent under their noses. The band formed in 2005 and through sheer determination and copious gigging drew the attention of indie concern Concrete Records who signed them. The band took a “play anywhere approach” to promoting themselves. They would jump in their battered Ford Fiesta and play unheard of backwaters.
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They marked up over 100 dates between 2006 and 2009. “We would play in places most bands don’t go, to build up a following the old fashioned way. We never had a booking agent; we were completely overlooked by the industry.” The band had developed a rabid fan base through their incessant touring, had played Glastonbury four times and been featured on BBC radio programs but to no avail. The inability to gain a toehold grew the band’s frustration and led to the decision to break up. “We didn’t ever think about what we do or how we might fit in, we just make music that comes to us… We’ve never been savvy enough to think about how to market ourselves, that is probably our downfall.” A year passed and the band decided to reform with renewed purpose to fight for their music to be heard. The band’s returning members are Rob Cross on vocals and guitar, Paul “Smithy” Smith on bass, Chris Day on drums with the addition of Sam Coulton on keyboards.
Orphan Boy’s implosion could be looked at as a blessing in disguise because out of all the trauma comes, “Coastal Tones”, a disk that showcases the band for all their melodic gifts as they relay the current state of the UK circa 2015. On “Coastal Tones” the band steps up their attacks on the establishment with pithy insightful lyrics. They are Conveying their crystal clear viewpoint of life as seen from the provinces, cleverly couching their dissatisfaction in scintillating guitars and heartfelt lyrics. They dare to suggest that the less heralded parts of the country are as valid as anywhere else.
“Coastal Tones” illustrates the beauty and pain of the mundane. It highlights the not oft mentioned towns and cities that provide the back bone of the UK; towns such as Donchester, Basingstoke, and their hometown of Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. The songs speak to life with the ever present looming chemical plant glow and the ennui of the dole in all of its life restricting reality. Thematically the album at times runs the danger of being dismissed as stereotypically “wife beater wearing beer bloke”; but pride of place and the stiff upper lip of the British shines through turning the album into everyday man’s poetry. The disc is an anthem for small unsung towns.
The album starts off strongly with “Beats Like Distant Tides” for anyone familiar with Orphan Boy’s prior output this song is everything fantastic about the band. The fast paced song is loaded with great guitar work, vibrant percussion and vocals that hit all the right buttons. There are threads of dance/pop and shoegaze throughout weaving a delectable concoction. The song is an apt display of the band’s resurgence as it references the momentary loss of the fire in their belly. It is an amazing opening track.
“Sunken Hearts” contains a wonky distorted guitar and channels Jesus and the Mary Chain with it’s panoply of sonic goodness. The other worldly vocals and powerful percussion provide amazing energy and delivery a solid becoming song. The track “Transpennine”, takes its name from the train service for Northern UK and the central belt of Scotland. The song like a figurative train builds in speed and momentum as the song moves along. The track describes riding the rails through the back counties with the accompanying laser like observations.
“On a Nelson Skyline” displays the reality of the small town life in the hinder provinces. The track paints a canvas of life during the austerity era and its dispiriting effects on real life, likening it to “Spiraling down the gutter.” It is another tight track where the band is firing on all cylinders sonically. Following that theme “From the Provinces” gives a call out to the unsung cities of the north. With its hook laden dance beat and blary keyboards, the song adds elements of The Cure, Jesus and the Mary Chain and early Simple Minds to the mix and comes out with a song I can’t stop playing.
“Money to Money” sounds like a song The Clash would give their whole hearted seal of approval. The song calls out establishment greed decrying how trickle down economics never really trickle down to the poor. The lyric “Buy high sell low” points out the backward thinking of the powers that be as the song puts austerity measures on trial. The aggressive guitar and drums on attack perfectly compliment the feelings of the piece.
The tracks “Clover” and “Bury Your Stars” are songs that are engaging and show the band’s wide ranging musical abilities. They are both atmospheric in parts and explosive with spot on lyrics.
The title track “Coastal Tones” starts as a moody atmospheric piece that is as wide as the sea with lulling reverb guitars and then morphs into something other with a more earthbound percussion later in the song. The song examines the serenity of the seaside and the jarring reality of life when the vacation is over. “Thirtysomething Lovesick Ballad” is the final track on the collection, and what a ballsy way to take the album out. In parts The Clash and Manic Street Preachers, the song testifies to the ills of modern day life. A “true to life” monologue about the hopelessness of the dole and how soul crushing it can be makes the song a highlight. The song is a spectacular way to end as it underlining the ”Council Pop” ethos that Orphan Boy has made their own.
Orphan Boy has produced yet another stellar album. “Coastal Tones” is triumphant and vibrant throughout. They have mad musical skills and lyric abilities that should be better appreciated. If you want to cheer on a brave underdog here is a band worthy of your backing. I fervently hope this sorely underappreciated band finally gets the notice they so richly deserve.