The Pale are one of those bands that get labelled as a cult act by the press because diminishing commercial returns are seen as a failure. ’21 Song Salute’ shows their career has been anything but. The songs pack a punch musically, blending stomping rock with lively folk and lyrically they are a step above – Matthew Devereux is a terribly underrated wordsmith.
Eschewing a retrospective of singles and standout moments from their 21 years of a recording career, this record is a collection of alternative versions, b-sides and unreleased material. The sheer quality and eclectic nature of what didn’t make the cut for single releases is just mind-boggling. Echoes of The Cure, The Smiths, The Waterboys, James and XTC can all be heard here and the Pale can be regarded as equal contemporaries of any of these acts.
It’s hard to find some of the earlier Pale records online, never mind in shops, so this collection – released over 21 weeks via Soundcloud on the excellent 1969 records label – is a welcome release for fans who have long misplaced old recordings on cassette and vinyl.
“I’m not good at focusing on the commercial aspects of music and trends,” The Pale’s lead singer and core songwriter, Devereux has said in the past. There isn’t anything remotely commercial about the bands make-up anyway. Since when has the mandolin ever been cool? No, it doesn’t count for bands wearing pre-aged River Island boots and woolly cardigans with oversized buttons.
The contrast in terms of their sound is evidenced by the jump from the wistful indie-pop of Lady Gregory to stuff like Delete Me, ironic rock with distorted vocals and loud guitars from the unreleased album of the same name – particularly rewarding sessions it must be said. Monster‘s chiming guitars marry beautiful lyrical couplets. It makes you wonder why Devereux is not more highly regarded, “there’s nothing left to trade, your currency is too old” being of particular poignancy.
Good Ship has Shane Wearen’s mandolin at the forefront, duelling with the guitars like the righteous and unjust, its mediterranean shuffle is just irresistible, as is instrumental Red Letter Day. Some things don’t work within the context of these 21 songs, purely at a technical level, the volume of Is What It Is, is not in keeping with the record. More great moments come, though, on Viva La Idiot and Rabbit’s Paw.
The great thing about The Pale is that just when you think you have them pegged down and labelled, another track sends you off course yet again. Proverbial Shirt with its drum machine and programming has an eerie quality to it that is a total antithesis to anything else on the record. However, focus is never lost and you can equally enjoy the shifts in style from stuff like The Kid to No One’s Oasis without losing the sense that this is The Pale. Irish music fans should treasure them.