walked into The Departure a few months ago. Two of them, anyway. They were coming out of Index, celebrating their newfound fame and fortune by buying what appeared to be a widescreen television, I never look where I’m going, and thus walked directly into one of them. Apologies were made, we went on our separate ways, and a few moments later I realised I’d just had a brush with mediocrity.
I’m from the same hometown as The Departure. Northampton, England. We used to be world renowned for our shoe industry, but the factories are all closed now. We elected both Britain’s first atheist MP (Charles Bradlaugh) and only prime minister to be assassinated (Spencer Percival). We have a football team too good for League Two but not good enough for League One. We have a university that specialises in fashion design and agriculture. And we have a music scene that doesn’t bear thinking about. The Departure have never made a secret of the fact that they’re happy to get away from Northampton. I know the feeling.
The back story makes for good copy: less than a year passed between the band forming, and them having a top 40 single (“All Mapped Out”, which, realising that they have very few ideas, they have since released. It charted three places lower than the original).
Frontman David Jones (not the Monkee) was brought up as a member of Northampton’s ever-present, ever-burgeoning, ever-unwelcome Jesus Army. For the uninitiated, as well as wearing some of the tackiest looking plastic crucifixes ever made (it’s 2005 people, there’s no excuse not to rock a Jesus piece), the Jesus Army try to live a simple, back-to-basics life. Thus Davey Boy grew up without any access to popular culture, or popular music, until he was in his teens, when, he snuck a portable radio into his bedroom.
Now, think. This takes us up to the mid 1990s. Can you think what music the young Jones had his conscience melded by? Did you say Britpop? Full credit. Now, extrapolate: what do you think The Departure’s debut album, Dirty Words, may sound like, knowing what you do about their past? Now, extrapolate further: can you think why they were signed to a major label contract when they hadn’t even played five gigs? If you said “Because A&R; executives didn’t learn from the critical and commercial Hindenburg that was The Others, and still think there’s some room left on the bandwagon of “angular” “new” “garage” “post” “punk” “rock”,” then you win the star prize. The star prize being “the opportunity to never have to sit through this wholly unappealing, derivative, charmless, feckless, painful exercise in listening to a few records and going “Yeah, I can do that” when it’s quite obvious that you can’t.”
You’ll all have your least favourite thing about The Departure, and mine is Jesus Army Boy’s vocals. For a band that seem keen to mention their hometown, even if just to disparage it, in every interview they do, it’s interesting that Jones decides to sing with the worst “Croikey Maaree Parpins” fake-Cockney accent seen this side of an Ealing comedy. Even with the greatest will, those vocals make it impossible to listen to this album without liberal use of the pause button and a couple of Anadin.
And as for the songs themselves? “Talkshow” sounds like XTC, or perhaps Ian Dury. “Don’t Come Any Closer” like The Clash as covered by Inspiral Carpets. “Changing Pilots” like “Diamond Dogs” on libido suppressants. “Time” is “Think Tank” if Alex had left instead of Graham. Nowhere on this album is there any evidence that The Departure have ever had an original idea, other than “Hey, them there Franz Ferdinand/The Killers/The Bloc Parties are quite popular nowadays, aren’t they?”
And the thing is, an over-reliance on pastiche wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that a) they’re running in grooves created by the wheels of the bandwagon they’ve arrived too late to jump on and b) they tackle it all in the most hopeless, hapless, school talent show cover band style of derivation imaginable. Imagine a guy who works in a factory that produces flour tortillas. He’s quality control for the packaging. Every hour, thousands of flour tortillas pass by his eyes. That guy’s passion for flour tortillas is the same as The Departure’s passion for music. All they do is clock in, make sure their hands are clean, keep the work surface free of peanuts, and set about an 8-4 shift on the geetar. Their only real hope is that Jacques LuCont takes some pity on them and gives them a remix. Then they might have a soul. As it stands, they’ve got just enough mainstream appeal to keep them out of Northampton until the second album. And then, when the record labels perform a revival of the ever popular “Britpop cull of 2000,” they may want to think about taking that widescreen TV down to Cash Converters.