By Oliver Burton
Emerging through tales of over-ambitious sell outs and sing-a-long singles, leaving label executives drooling out of every conceivable orifice, Manchester outfit Larkins are the latest in a string of up and coming indie pop groups, thoughtlessly claiming residence on the tip of every Mancunian tongue. So like all music reviews should aim to achieve, let’s explore the what’s, the when’s and the why’s of this seemingly unforeseen hype storm…
As has been a pillar of the all too decrepit swamp that is modern day Britain, long-haired indie ballads are now as good a reflection of the youth as is feasibly possible. Lingering in the shadows of the ever enigmatic Matt(y) Healy like a clique of suburban peeping toms, bands such as The Hunna, King No-One and Pale Waves regularly achieve a stylistically similar musical aesthetic, adding droplets of androgyny and subversion to tick the ‘they’re a little different’ box. Unfortunately though, that’s where the credibility ends. The past few years have bore witness to a process of copycatting that with every new instalment of Manchester’s Neighbourhood Festival, becomes more and more arduous. All that we can kneel down and pray for is that our fresh faced fashionable friends Larkins have more to offer than three and a half minutes of carefully composed; unthreatening ambiguity. The band’s latest contribution to the Healy pop maker matrix (more on that later) is titled ‘Sugar Sweet’, strap on your goggles and let’s dive in.
Listen to ‘Sugar Sweet’ here:
Just 8 seconds deep and we’re thrusted into a most anthemic verse arrangement, marred with electronic drum sounds and synth lines. It’s going to be hard to escape the view that this is anything but an exercise in large production. Employing a Blossoms sound pallet to heavy influences of The 1975, the first verse cruises by with singer Josh pumping gas into the arrangements with apparent lyrical tragedy. Masked by the ambiguity of the singer’s very radio-friendly prose, it’s difficult to engage and understand the emotional purpose that’s being served up here. Overwhelmed by the painfully intense grandeur of the chorus…let’s say…drop, the material purpose of ‘Sugar Sweet’ is now revealing itself to me. Although presented with a very ‘second Wombats’ album’ vocal line, it’s undeniably catchy. This song captures the periphery of the least attentive listener’s attention, nodding along at a cool 68mph as the rudimental rhythm of chorus and verse subliminally instruct him to tune in and out. Delving slightly deeper, but by no means exploring uncomfortable depths, we’re at the second verse and then the second chorus, command C, command V.
The middle eight does what a middle eight tends to do, gifting the listener a taste of what they’ve already had, albeit with a slightly altered formula – before thrusting us all back into that chorus hook, a most minor blanket of comfortability. Larkins use of conventional song structure is certainly faithful to the 9-5 commuters of Austerity Britannia. Serenaded by the predictable nature of this three minute number, the listener now finds himself content with slaving away behind a desk for 8 hours, knowing that eventually Janet from HR will stop her incessant grilling of his everything, and that he will soon be rewarded with a luxurious 3 hour leisure time, before it al starts again. So far i’d say this song would be put to better use endlessly playing out of the hifi systems of a correctional facility, housing those guilty of purchasing the second Wombats’ record.
Aside from the cynicism, i have no doubt whatsoever that ‘Sugar Sweet’ will go on to prove important in cementing the burgeoning success story that is Larkins. The chorus is catchy and the verses are impossibly easy to get your head around, it’s indie pop at its least polarising. Reflecting on this song is like when a father denounces to his guilty child – “i’m not angry, i’m just disappointed”. Devoid of anything lyrically interesting and subverting, Larkins are sure to be the next one album wonder churned out by the indie pop organism. At the helm Matt(y) Healy slides his tentacle faders as he injects the faintest blemish of appeal into one of his many subjects.
When we reluctantly tune in to Radio 1 and are presented with a new Larkins track, a new Hunna track, or a new King No-One track, we have all the dressings of musical success. What we can’t hear though is a character, a personality which we feel we know. Beneath the grandiose and seemingly conformist identity of The 1975 lies a meaningful purpose, with each song contributing it’s own nuanced opinions on subjects such as society, politics, or the more ubiquitous coverage of relationships. The influence of The 1975 and Healy’s Pop-maker-matrix may have its apparent material explanations (haircuts, live show/persona, general aesthetic), but casting an eye down on the whole of the genre, there are clear differences that separate the most successful indie pop band of the last 5 years, and everyone else.