I hadn’t quite appreciated until I went back to read over the previous time The Twilight Sad had featured, that the that the ICA series had been running for such a long time. They were #3, posted on 9 September 2014, following on the back of The Smiths and the solo career of Edwyn Collins. The rush to complete that particular ICA was that I wanted to pull together something before the fourth album hit the shops as to wait would likely have made it an impossible task. In the end, I went with four songs from Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (2007), four from Forget The Night Ahead (2009) and two from No One Can Ever Know (2012)
Since then the band has released two more albums Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (2014) and It Won/t Be Like This All the Time (2019), both of which have taken the group to even higher levels of achievement and enjoyment.
Nobody…..was an album which could very well have been their farewell to the music industry. Andy McFarlane, the guitarist and main music writer, stated on its release that the aim was to capture all the different forms the music has taken over the years, from “full on noise/feedback, to a sparse, synth led sound, to a stripped back set up with just keys, drum machine and guitar, to playing with an orchestra, and to just an acoustic with vocal.” It certainly achieved that, but the interviews that accompanied the album’s release caught a band seemingly unsure of themselves, feeling as if they had run out of ideas and really worried about how fans and critics alike would respond. The very title of the album captured the dilemma they seemed to be in.
Despite the band’s fears, there was near universal acclaim, and leading the plaudits was none other than Robert Smith who ended up covering one of the tracks from the album and making it available as a b-side to 7” single by The Twilight Sad. He then followed it up by offering the band the opportunity to be the supporting act for The Cure on their May/June 2016 North American tour, which included three nights at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York and to then fulfil the same role on the October–December 2016 European tour, which included three nights at London’s Wembley Arena as well as dates in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris.
I was quite fearful when the news of the support slot was revealed – history records that many names bigger than The Twilight Sad have taken on the task of opening up arena/stadium tours and freezing with fear when the enormity of the task hit home. I ended up one evening in the company of someone who is highly respected as a performer and entrepreneur in the Scottish music industry, who told me I had nothing to worry about. It was his view, and there were few better qualified than him to judge things, that The Twilight Sad made music that would easily fill the arenas and in such a way that would connect wonderfully with the sort of fan base that The Cure were able to command. He felt they would relish it but it would leave them exhausted and again unsure of what to do next….but against that, it would at long last bring them the financial rewards that were long overdue.
Those predictions were uncannily accurate. There were no Scottish dates on The Cure’s European tour and so fans awaited the announcement of some sort of one-off headlining gig at the end of 2016 or early 2017, but it never came. Lead singer James Graham went off and did some side projects, all the while remaining coy about the future of his main band, albeit he did say songs were being worked on.
There was no discernible activity in 2017 and then a bit of a bombshell in January 2018 with the news that drummer Mark Devine was leaving – this meant that only James and Andy were now left from the original four-piece that had started out back in 2003. The band announced an immediate replacement and stated that work was well underway on a new album which would also be coming out on a new label as they were leaving Brighton-based Fat Cat Records after a ten-year association.
May 2018 saw the band play at the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, their first gig in 18 months since the end of the tour with The Cure. The following month saw them play this astonishing set at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds as a warm up to more Cure-linked activities in London. July saw the announcement of them signing to Mogwai’s label Rock Action Records and the release of a new song “I/m Not Here [missing face]”, for streaming and as a digital download, together with dates in North America and Europe taking place towards the end of the year. In September 2018, just before the North America/Europe tour, it was announced that the fifth album would be called It Won/t Be Like This All the Time and would see light of day on 18 January 2019, before which two more tracks would be made available for purchase/download/streaming.
I’ll cut to the chase…..the latest album is an absolute knockout and has attracted praise from all quarters. It’s been called timeless and full of high-quality songs, but Paul Carr at Popmatters nailed it better than anyone:-
“The squalling, shoegaze guitars of Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, the brooding electronics of No One Can Ever Know, [and] the raw intimacy of Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave are all present but they are melded with fresh, nuanced sonic textures and bright, emphatic post-punk synths all injected with more direct pop hooks and melodies. What’s left is an album informed by all of their musical experiences and as such works as their definitive artistic statement.”
I haven’t stopped listening to the new album since I picked it up at the launch show at Mono in Glasgow were I was privileged to hear Andy and James perform a spine-tingling stripped-down acoustic set of new and old material. I had the luck of getting to hear the songs played by the full band at two Glasgow shows – a warm-up gig at King Tut’s and then the sell-out show before a devoted audience at Glasgow Barrowlands, after which I had the unforgettable honour of being part of the Simply Thrilled gang who hosted the official post-gig after show, where I’ll be played a set as part of the warm up for none other than our guest DJ Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai.
Talk about surreal.
All of which leads me, finally, to a second ICA for The Twilight Sad. I never thought a second volume would better the first, especially as that had contained some of their oldest and most enduring songs from the first two albums. But trust me on this dear readers, volume two utterly transcends it.
1. There’s A Girl In The Corner – from Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (2014)
The band played a few gigs in 2014 before the release of the album and this was very much to the fore in the sets. It was an obvious tour de force, mixing that sparse synth sound of later albums with the pounding drums and guitars of the earlier material as had been promised by Andy McFarlane. This was the one which Robert Smith couldn’t wait to get his hand on, and no wonder.
2. Don’t Move – from No One Can Ever Know (2012)
It was a really tough call having only two songs from the 2012 album make it on to the first ICA but that all came down to me trying desperately hard to make it a ‘proper’ album which maintained a flow throughout, with the consequence that there was less ‘natural’ space for the more keyboard driven songs. There’s no such issues with this ICA as N/O/C/E/K really set down the template for the direction the band would take into the studio in later years and they link well to the 2014 and 2019 LPs.
I’m happy to admit that Don’t Move was a track I kind of missed when the album was initially released, slotted as it was into the middle of the running order and not quite as immediate or mind-blowing as those which preceded or followed it, but I soon realised, from hearing it live, that it was one of the real stand-outs.
3. Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting – from It Won/t Be Like This All the Time (2019)
This was the first of what turned out to be three unreleased songs which were aired at the Brudenell Social Club gig and it was immediately clear that the new material was going to be quite sensational. The band have always had the habit of giving songs obscure or strange working titles which are kept even after they’ve gone beyond the demo stage. The lyrics have nothing to do with the American actor, nor have they anything to do with photography. This loud, bombastic tune works amazingly well as a stripped back acoustic tune, as evidenced when it was played that way at the album launch show. I’ve a feeling the band, as they have done with previous albums, will release the unplugged versions.
4. Alphabet (alternative version) – from N/O/C/E/K Tour EP (2012)
As mentioned above, The Twilight Sad have a history of later releasing alternative versions of songs. Alphabet is the disturbing and haunting opener on No One Can Ever Know and becomes even more so on this unplugged version which was made available for download (along with five other tracks) from the band’s website and as a limited edition CD for sale at shows. If you do ever see any live shows billed as not being by the full band, it will almost certainly mean its James on vocals and Andy on acoustic guitar…..and if you go along and watch any such shows, this is the sort of thing you will be lucky enough to hear.
Worth mentioning that this slowed-down version of Alphabet was the inspiration for Bill Wells & Aiden Moffat doing a cover version for one side of a 7” single for Record Store Day 2013, with The Twilight Sad offering their take of Bill and Aiden’s If You Keep Me In Your Heart on the reverse.
5. Vtr – from It Won/t Be Like This All the Time (2019)
In the fullness of time, this might very well become the song which most defines The Twilight Sad. James has said in interviews recently that the line ‘there’s no love too small’ is one of the most hopeful he’s ever penned which nevertheless is surrounded by lines which are full of anxiety and fear. He’s also said that the album was written while the band was dealing with ‘birth, death, illness, uncertainty and self-hatred’. But in an album of outstanding numbers, it is this upbeat tune with its optimistic refrain which carries the biggest and most important message.
1. The Wrong Car – single (2010)
I’ll play this near eight-minute epic and wonder to myself how it didn’t make it onto the previous ICA. It’s actually down to the fact that the first ICA was packed with equally epic numbers and there was just no room. The Wrong Car was recorded at the Chem 19, the studio just outside of Glasgow which is owned and run by Chemikal Underground and Paul Savage from the Delgados worked alongside Andy and then drummer Mark on the production side of things. It was the most ambitious thing they had done up to that point and they haven’t quite explored similar territory since. In most instances, it would be a fair bet to say that the best part of a decade on The Twilight Sad won’t ever make another song quite like The Wrong Car…..but this is a band who never stand still and never fail to surprise in the most pleasant of ways.
2. I/m Not Here (missing face) – from It Won/t Be Like This All the Time (2019)
This was the track chosen to showcase all of the new material, being released as a digital download last July. If this had been the 80s or 90s, there is no question in my mind that this, on vinyl or CD, would have flown out of the shops and gotten the band into the mainstream charts and led to appearances on shows such as Top of The Pops. Even a decade or so ago, a tune as anthemic and danceable as this would have made been all over daytime radio. Having said that, the thought of The Twilight Sad having to play the game in the same way that chart bands have to would be a huge risk in terms of them keeping going – there’s just a feeling that James in particular would be uncomfortable with such attention. As things stand, he and his mates can do things as they feel suits their continued development best, and this includes taking time off to do the side projects or accepting the opportunities to do the mega gigs as guests in and around their own much smaller headlining tours. Sometimes it’s just better that way.
3. I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want
4. It Was Never The Same (both from Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (2014)
These songs are back-to-back on the 2014 album and it’s one of those rare occasions when I can’t help but always wanting to hear the latter immediately after hearing The former. They were, incidentally, the two songs given physical releases as singles by Fat Cat Records.
I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want is another track which I imagine had Robert Smith nodding his head in appreciation recalling the many times when he could write and record perfect indie-rock music. Fat Cat Records elected to issue this as limited edition picture disc which was great for those of us who were happy to snap up every release on the day of issue, but in the hands of major label, and with the marketing push they are more than capable of delivering, I reckon this could have been the breakthrough hit…..
The latter is a wonderful example of the mellower slower side to the band. It’s a beautiful and haunting piece of music, one which enables James to display his vocal abilities. The band played a Scottish tour of smallish venues at the end of 2014 and myself and Aldo got ourselves along to the Tolbooth in Stirling (at which the wonderful Adam Stafford was supporting). We arrived early and as we made our way past the venue on our way to a nearby pub, we could hear, through an open window, the band sound checking with a really haunting take on It Was Never The Same. It was one of those spine-tingling moments that won’t ever be forgotten.
5. Videograms (Weatherall mix)
Andrew Weatherall first worked with The Twilight Sad on No One Can Ever Know, receiving the very strange credit of ‘anti-producer’ on the album. There is no doubt that his contribution to that particular record was immense, helping to guide the band into making the sort of sounds which enabled critics to mention the likes of Public Image, Magazine, Can, Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and The Cure in the accompanying reviews.
In advance of the release of the new album, The Twilight Sad (or more precisely, Rock Action Records) revealed that the producer had given his attention to Videograms, a track that had already been made available on vinyl as a one-sided 10” single. The Weatherall mix was only available as a download….it was wonderfully reviewed by Adam over in the Bagging Area late last year:-
Unless he sneaks something out between today and New Year’s Eve this looks like being the final Andrew Weatherall remix and release of 2018, a seven minute re-working of Scottish post-punkers The Twilight Sad. Weatherall adds that metronomic drum machine and sends the whole thing through an FX box called ‘Early/Mid 80s New Order’. A friend aptly described this as Widescreen Goth. I just hope there will be a proper 12″ release because it’s a fine example of the art of the remix (you can buy it as a download but somehow that’s not quite enough).
Sadly, this seven plus minutes of magnificence has still only been made available as a download, but given that The Twilight Sad have a very happy habit of occasionally offering up remix albums a while after the original LP has been released, then I’m not giving up hope entirely.
I know this has been something of a long read, and prrhaps it has just been a bit too much for some of you. But as far as I’m concerned, The Twilight Sad are probably the most important band out there just now and so there’s no apologies on offer……
And don’t rule out a volume 3 at some point in the future – possibly full of remixes!!