Think Before You Speak
re Mike Skinner’s portraits of British life accurate? Does Maximo Park’s Paul Smith’s oppressive yelp cast any light onto the tense undertones at the riverbed of Anglican society? Just how accurately do the Guillemots reflect England’s storied music-hall tradition? As an American, how the fuck should I know? I love Britpop—even the much-derided (on this site, anyway) modern variety—but I freely admit that my level of insight into any claims of authenticity it might make are specious at best. Instead, I listen to Britpop records almost exclusively in terms of their aesthetic value, which might not help to make me a more well-rounded listener but which certainly leaves me able to make bold statements about the value of records exactly like Good Shoes’ Think Before You Speak.
I bring this up because Think Before You Speak probably ranks among the five or ten most strident records to be released in my lifetime. It’s hardly a new development for the band, of course; “Small Town Girl,” Good Shoes’ 2005 debut single for the much-beloved Young & Lost Club, lay dormant on my hard drive for nearly six months while I sorted through the dilemma of whether or not I actually wanted to step up to bat for a band so fervently committed to sounding so ugly. Most of this is directly attributable to Rhys Jones’ cavalier attitude towards tune-carrying; to an untrained ear Jones makes Ari Up sound like the second coming of Billie Holliday. But it’s there in the music too, a tangled web of interlocking wiry guitar lines and galloping drums which never seem to coagulate into anything sounding even remotely unified.
The ironic thing, of course, is that this is precisely how Good Shoes’ music should be consumed. If Think Before You Speak has any lessons to impart, it’s that Good Shoes needs the album format arguably more than any other band on the planet; over the course of the record’s 14 tracks, the band barrels through more full-speed-ahead time signatures, craggy guitar riffs, and opportunities for Jones to sloganeer than many groups serve up in an entire career. It’s safe to say that if you don’t like Good Shoes after this record, you might as well shake hands with the band and move on; they may never make themselves this accessible again.
As laudably idiosyncratic as their approach to making radio-friendly indie guitar-pop may be, it’s not half as invigorating as the panache the band brings to its execution, the true pleasures that lie at the heart of Think Before You Speak come from the enthusiastic accuracy of Steve Leach’s guitar work or Tom Jones’ barreling skin-banging. Even Rhys’ banshee howl finds redemption in the formula; he may still be exposing his shortcomings as a lyricist every time he puts the focus on accurately reflecting the world around him (“Sophia” is a particularly ardent wince-inducer, unironically rolling out both “DJs playing shit records” and “All the pretty girls are screaming ‘Take off your pants’” in the space of like a minute and a half), but one doesn’t have to hear too many moments imbued with the steely-eyed ferocity of Jones’ barked titular opening lines to “Photo On My Wall” to start mulling over the possibility of being in the presence of someone uniquely skilled at hanging the right-sounding words on a track.
Think Before You Speak is hardly an album for everyone; the crudest litmus test one might apply to it is to determine just how much appeal a Futureheads record might have if all the glossy technical theatricality had been surgically excised. It’s not a great record either; subsequent playthroughs may reveal it to not even be a good one, although it’s certainly stood up admirably to the stress test I’ve been administering to it for the last week or so. But I remain resolute in my conviction that for the people who find themselves able to sublimate their snap judgments, Think Before You Speak is a wonderfully satisfying record, no matter which side of the Atlantic you call home.
Reviewed by: James Cobo
Reviewed on: 2007-03-22