It could be easy to read into the meaning behind the title of Cavan five-piece The Would Be’s latest release. Formed in 1989, the band released a couple of EPs and singles in the early Nineties, and the John Peel-championed I’m Hardly Ever Wrong single was also recently exalted in Tony Clayton-Lea’s ‘101 Irish Records You Must Hear Before You Die’. A Peel Session and a jaunt with Morrissey on his Kill Uncle tour followed on from that early highlight, as did some record company interest, but the stars never aligned for the group and they disbanded in ’92. But the old flame was rekindled following the publication of Clayton-Lea’s book; a triumphant, nostalgia-banishing reunion gig with The Frank & Walters followed in early 2012 bringing us right up to date with the band’s career – a beautiful mess?
That jangly Smiths vibe is still there from their early output, and fans will be glad to know the sabbatical has done nothing to take the sparkle off the band’s knack for a peerless pop hook. An opening riff just the right side of sinister begins Beautiful Mess before its upbeat mainframe sets the pace for the following run of indie sparklers. Too Bad is another fine, melodic tune, leading into Black & White Rainbow and the point where the album hits its stride. The band couldn’t be more in thrall to The Ronettes, with the song’s “Be My Baby” refrain and sweet harmonies over an equally sweet melody.
Shakers count in an intro to the retro dancehall of Different Kind Of Blue, with Julie McDonnell in melancholic mood – “an E minor kind of mood/sold my soul can I buy it back”. The blues aren’t so bad when they’re soundtracked by swaying pop like this though, and drummer Paul Finnegan takes over the reins at the end, rumbling all around the kit with some big rolls. Let’s Play Dumb is another one that takes a slightly darker slant; the chorus belies the content in its “easy come, easy go” lyric and soaring mellifluous harmonies. Could Be The Weather delivers yet another of those irresistible sing-along melodies on the title line – a breezy, ska-inflected guitar rhythm underpins a seemingly endless repetition of “could bes” and “maybes”, and when The Would Be’s hit the peaks like this it’s apparently effortless indie pop.
Some Other Planet skirts the border of cheesiness – “I’m on a yummy planet/there’s hardly any yucky bits on it” – but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. They’ve earned enough goodwill by this point in the record that it works well; although brevity would have benefited it, it’s as catchy as it gets, with wavering guitar flashes vibrating over the verse and an oompah horn solo. The gentle guitar intro to Waste Your Love ushers us into what seems initially ballad country; the riff is repeated, slightly faster, and the band joins to give it a bit of body. A playful horn line drops notes in the background, and it’s these embellishments by Aidine O’Reilly that are the album’s triumph; her sax and trombone offerings spin from soulful interjections to playful doo-wop throughout, more nuanced than those fledgling releases.
McDonnell whispers into the fade out as the album winds down and a prolonged silence takes over. A secret track makes itself known, a brief instrumental coda of Too Bad that fades similarly into the distance, calling an end to a largely successful renaissance for the quintet. The vocal harmonies and interplay on this ‘Beautiful Mess’ are pristine, and as O’Reilly’s horns dance in and around the band it’s clear that not only are these the sounds of a band enjoying their return to form, but those of a band with much more to offer.