There’s a certain sense of pathos to the career trajectory of The Blades. Formed in Dublin in 1977, the band released a handful of singles and two well-regarded records, but their path wasn’t without problems. Their debut ‘The Last Man In Europe’ was recorded in 1983 but Elektra chose to hold back its release, until Reekus Records finally got it out into the world in ’85. The stutter in momentum clearly rankled, no doubt a major factor in the turn of events that led to the band’s dissolution shortly after its release. Reekus released ‘Raytown Revisited’ that same year, a singles collection which gathered material from the previous five years, but The Blades had by this time checked out.
A pair of reunion shows in The Olympia in 2013 brought about a resurgence of interest in the one-time contenders, and now we find ourselves at this point – the first release by The Blades in thirty years. Founding member Paul Cleary, Jake Reilly on drums and bassist Brian Foley form the core of this incarnation of the band, augmented by a horn section and keys for this four-track EP. There’s a lot of love out there for The Blades – a lot of nostalgia. It will be interesting to see how this is received by long-time listeners and the uninitiated alike.
‘Smalltime’ is a reflective release, something hammered home on the titular opening track. Smalltime takes a biographical slant, recalling the early days and the success that eluded The Blades. It’s also a statement that chasing success wasn’t – isn’t – what The Blades are all about. A slow ballad that seems like a forlorn segment from a Broadway musical, it doesn’t seem to find purpose until those horns that open the EP come back in at the midway point, adding a much needed soulful injection a la Dexys.
All Fall Down comes from a similar mould, staying in piano-led McCartney territory with an oom-pah beat that briefly marches it along. “We won’t fall down today” sings Cleary, in a song that seems to recount addiction and the struggle of staying straight. Some more saccharine show tune sensibilities are displayed on I Still Believe In You, even if the odd glimpse of later era Jam infiltrates the sentiments.
A Motown beat drives the punchy soul of Harder Times, at first masking the darker ruminations on the repercussions of austerity (“These are the harder times/So much more than before”). It’s a politically-charged rally, a comment on the state of the nation…maybe even the state of the band. Cleary’s claim that “Love is all we can afford” is equally applicable when all is said and done.
They may be looking back lyrically, but it’s clear that The Blades are not content to rehash their first two records. This is a more mature sounding band than that of those 1985 releases, something reflected in the songwriting. The Blades have mellowed. Anger is replaced by acceptance, and the foot is off the accelerator in favour of a more refined, mellifluous type of contemplation. It’s a worthy progression, unfortunately just dull in parts – there’s material here that wouldn’t go amiss on a Billy Joel album. Harder Times shakes off the malaise alright, but it’s a brief aside in a largely plodding foursome – perhaps the stretch of their imminent full-length release will prove the more fitting forum for the band’s current approach.