The early ’00s were personified by the kind of MOR rock that still filters through the air in waiting rooms and elevators the world over. It was a kind of corporate friendly genre that Creation Records boss Alan McGee referred to as “bedwetters’” music in his appraisal of 2000’s Mercury Award nominations for The Guardian.
The main target of McGee’s vitriol were of course, Coldplay. The man who signed Oasis when they were playing pub gigs bemoaned the lack of any real characters with attitude on the music scene in his article. “If Coldplay have an attitude about anything, it’s passing their A-levels,” he wrote.
While McGee’s comments were harsh on Coldplay, they were probably true of what the music industry deemed marketable as ‘alternative’ at the time. However, there were still bands who shone, briefly yet brightly, and went on to make the decade a good one musically. Turin Brakes and their gritty acoustic campfire laments were one.
The indie-folk duo had a brief stint in the limelight circa 2001-2 with The Optimist LP and Ether Song – the album that spawned the feelgood tune ‘Pain Killer (Summer Rain)’, which remains their only top 10 hit to date. 12 years and four studio albums later, not much has changed musically in the world of Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian. They still make luminous, alluring and thoughtful acoustic pop and on ‘We Were Here’ the formula doesn’t divert too much from the usual English folk and Americana.
While extending the boundaries of sonic experimentation in sound may be beyond their remit, there is enough joyous harmony and jollification that the Starsailor and Embrace comparisons can be left well alone. Single Time and Money and the title-track recall Matt Deighton’s long-forgotten Bench Connection and are dressed with Knight’s nasal, yet pleasing tones.
Dear Dad is resplendent in prominent Ron Burgundy-esque jazz flute, while Blindsided Again and In-Between suggest someone has been listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Part of the World and No Mercy are meandering – if inoffensive and heartfelt – identikit folk songs but Guess You Heard briefly hints at a lingering debt to Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Interestingly, Erase Everything may be what Radiohead would sound like should they ever do a full acoustic tour. Then again, it may not. Actually, it probably isn’t at all, but it could be if Thom Yorke starts meditating and reading self-help books.
The music critics will pick manholes in this work as essentially there is nothing new here to report on. No-one’s mind is going to be blown by this record but it is a likeable listen. It is a very Turin Brakes sounding album by a band that just happen to be called Turin Brakes. To be fair, there isn’t much wrong with that as they are very good at filling the space which they inhabit with their bittersweet, breezy and harmonic folk-pop. Even Alan McGee should enjoy this one.