Never one to mince words, Noel Gallagher falls all over himself in typically garrulous fashion to praise Reverend and The Makers in the press release for their new album Mirrors. References to “shitting in his smoking jacket” aside, one can’t argue with his conclusion. The Sheffield foursome has made a classic Britpop album in an era when almost no one was expecting one.
For a telling glimpse into the South Yorkshire industrial hometown of Reverend and The Makers look no further than the documentary 'Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets'. It paints the birthplace of Jarvis and company as a city rife with oddballs and the warmhearted elderly. The same droll on the dole brand of humour favored by Pulp permeates Mirrors. The record at times even evokes the Arctic Monkeys, a more contemporary Sheffield act enjoying international prominence. In fact, lead singer Jon McClure enjoyed an early friendship and creative association with Alex Turner of that group. While the good Reverend and his crew may never quite achieve the stateside breakthrough the Monkeys have, it’s not for lack of talent or ambition. Eclectic and quirky Anglo acts like this one have historically had trouble connecting with the Yanks. It’s the former colonies’ loss.
The group began the recording process for Mirrors close to home before decamping to Jamaica, where they indulged their elaborate whim of creating a film to accompany every track. Working with NME photojournalist Roger Sargent, the band departed the island with both the movie and Mirrors’ fourteen blasts of instantly hummable pop pastiche. Helmed by Dave Sanderson with additional production and mixing by post punker turned mega producer Youth, the stylistic guiding light here is a kind of postmodern psychedelia. A sprawling long player, the album recalls everything from English pastoralists the Zombies and the Kinks to the urban angst of bands like the Clash and the Jam.
Following “Amsterdam”, the album’s brief hallucinatory intro, a bongo and vocal with nods to “Sympathy for the Devil” signals the start of the strutting first single “Black Widow”. McClure’s vocal swagger and impudent bleat occasionally recall a youthful Ozzy Osbourne (!) on both this number and the garage style nugget “Stuck On You”. The latter brings to mind some of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s lighter moments.
A moodier side is on display during “The Beach And The Sea” where the singer intones, “I want you to wash all over me” atop waves of guitar. The jaunty brass and merry-go-round bridge on “The Gun” makes one pine for Blur and the sweeping scope of their 1995 masterwork The Great Escape. Female vocals kick off “My Mirror” which eventually dissolves into one of the album’s most kaleidoscopic moments. “Last To Know” is a ballad for acoustic guitar and strings that gives the listener a brief respite from the onslaught of studio effects and stylistic jumps.
In fact, the relentless 60s worshiping production occasionally grates over the course of an album. (Only so many sitar drones and hard panned drums are allowed per psychotropic voyage.) And like former tour mates Oasis, Reverend and the Makers aren’t courting literary acclaim - rhyming hypnosis and prognosis on the otherwise sturdy “Black Widow” is a glaring example of overreaching. Still, these are minor complaints of a record boasting hooks this compelling and energy this infectious. Reverend and The Makers have come up with their own millennial take on the psych concept albums of yore. File Mirrors along with SF Sorrow by The Flaming Groovies and the Small Faces’ Odgens’ Nut Gone Flake under required listening for fans of consciousness-expanding rock and roll.