Lacking the cathartic climaxes promised by extended crescendos, Glasvegas' second offering doesn't quite hit the spot, but its romantic visions can still be thrilling
Columbia, 12.99 ***
GLASVEGAS frontman James Allan tries so hard to be enigmatic. Those indoor shades, the monochromatic attire, the careful dripfeeding of information about his emotional state through his lyrics and interviews, the discerning choice of iconography and cultural references, it all feels naggingly contrived, at times even slightly desperate. At its least convincing, his unwieldy marriage of broadly accented tales of social workers and street violence backed by an indie Wall of Sound can feel like a joke that no-one has copped to yet.
At the same time, there is no doubting that Glasvegas have made an emotional impact. You only need to hear the lusty crowd response at their gigs to appreciate that, like Oasis, Primal Scream and certain privileged others, Glasvegas are a socially acceptable conduit for public displays of male affection and outpourings of manly emotion. Aw, bless. But now that they have ridden out the initial hype which greeted "the sound of young Scotland today" (thank you, Alan McGee), it is time to test what they are made of.
Terrace anthem choruses aside, the most considerable achievement of their debut album was its thoughtful and often eloquent exploration of the West of Scotland masculine identity question - to chib or not to chib? What do you do with your emotions, how do you express them? Once you have climbed over that clanger of a title, EUPHORIC///HEARTBREAK((( develops and expands on those themes with a mix of pretension and poetry.
They didn't have to make the effort. Allan could have written his cracking up album instead. Six tours of the US in less than a year is a recipe for breakdown. Add the crassly inevitable frontman's drug problems and the quiet departure of the drummer who doesn't want any part of it and you have the template for the clichd "fame sucks" follow-up.
But Allan is too seduced by the role of the romantic poet to produce something that dissolute. He describes himself as a social daydreamer, rather than a social commentator. There is sufficient substance in his writing to suggest that this is not just a pose. EUPHORIC///HEARTBREAK((( evokes its fair share of dreamy textures - but it also ladles on the pure stadium aspirations.
You can hear those aspirations, once the three-minute mutter and thrum of Pain Pain Never Again (with Allan's Kurt Cobain-dropping lyrics translated into French, ooh la la) has been dispensed with and The World Is Yours finally kicks in sounding very fine indeed in its bold assimilation of the early careers of Echo & The Bunnymen and U2.
Allan's impassioned pain is well suited to this overwrought angst - "you don't need me as much as I need you" he purges in his best Bono yowl - and U2 producer Flood is the man for the desk job.
If the song is indeed "about shyness and overcoming it", Allan seems to have pulled that one off. It is this willingness to throw himself off the precipice which sustains Glasvegas through the cheesier moments of this album. But it never sounds this mighty again.
You is a bland exercise in stadium swell without the rousing content. Euphoria, Take My Hand is bogstandard "epic" indie rock which imitates rather than evokes. Lots Sometimes is seven minutes of chest-beating crescendo which might sound more impressive live. Shine Like Stars starts promisingly with haunting yet pompous keyboards reminiscent of early Simple Minds but soon descends into lyrical platitudes and cheeky thievery (from The Beatles' Yesterday). Whatever Hurts You Through The Night, about a Thelma & Louise pact to escape domestic violence, is another great Glasvegas title which fails to translate into another great Glasvegas song.
Allan shifts his focus from macho culture to queer love on Stronger Than Dirt (Homosexuality Pt.2), a tough but tender, touching and tortured love song. His characters are both male, but there is plenty in the you-and-me-against-the-world sentiment which is universal.
In the tremulous I Feel Wrong (Homosexuality Pt.1), which perversely comes later in the album, the protagonist hasn't yet accepted his own desires, never mind anyone else's. It's a well-intentioned, if rudimentary work of empathy which may well resonate with those it is intended for, but it will be interesting to see if this diptych has the same cathartic reach through the Glasvegas fanbase as the likes of Daddy's Gone.
Speaking of which, Allan is painfully aware that he gave his father a bad rap on Glasvegas's best known song. Dream Dream Dreaming, another noble storm which tastes of the early 1980s, is his attempt to restore some balance, portraying his dad's grief for his dead brother and his efforts to keep his memory alive.
He does even better by his mum, giving her a cameo role on Change, a reflective album coda in which a prisoner on the verge of release shares his insecurities with his mammy. It's so Glasvegas, it's almost a spoof. But better to have a strong musical identity that is spoof-worthy than none at all.