It’s been five years since The Boxer Rebellion’s last and only album “Exits“, not the amount of a time an up and coming band ideally wait before launching their sophomore effort. But their’s has been a rocky half decade, full of injury, financial turmoil and record contract foibles. Yet still they’ve managed to make it out the other side and have made a number of gutsy moves during their second run up to the “big time”. Firstly they cast aside any need for record deals and launched “Union” in January on Itunes only, scoring a no1 on their alternative music chart, beating such lusty competitors as Coldplay and The Kings of Leon. Secondly, they’ve struck a mighty deal, with the even mightier HMV to be the sole proprietor of the new record, but given HMV is the only high street record store these days, that really isn’t much of a big deal. Although between me and you I saw a copy in Vinyl Exchange the other day going for a sprightly two quid, how they got hold of it? Nobody knows.
Two pounds is selling the Boxers short a little, they are a fairly good band, unfairly boxed together with “The Killers” a band that make “An Evening with Billy Joel“ sound palatable,God I hate Billy Joel, he looks like a shelled errant walnut which let itself go. The Rebellion are unabashedly “indie”, which is a slight problem given the “indie” cannon is so disgustingly bloated these days, that only a pinnacle of extra-special talent will see long-term success, the rest being condemned to ultimately disappear without a trace. To avoid that fate will be a difficult task, but The Boxer Rebellion do demonstrate here that they have some good material with which to work.
The album opener “Flashing Red Light Means Go” opens with a barrage of drums and you expect it to roll off into electric guitar anthem territory, but instead it veers into the acoustic, followed with almost shoegaze-like sound effects which echo Radiohead, it’s a nice surprise, and a lovely song.
There’s some quite wonderful song to song contrasts to, from the excellent single “Evacuate”, with its thrashing guitars and exasperated, “on the run” melody complete with drum rolls that bring to mind latter-day Morrissey. This gives way to the softly, lilting acoustic ballad “Soviets” “ Oh how can your innocence sway that easily” Nathan Nicholson sings in one of the albums better lyrical moments.
Nathan has the unnecessary want to reach for falsetto notes though from time to time, as if a man with the a loaded pistol has just walked into the studio, holding up a sign that reads, “sing higher or else I’ll shoot.” it sounds a little forced, comes out of nowhere and happens far to often, someone needs to sit him down and have a quiet word before he turns into Liberace, candelabras and all.
“The Gospel of Goro Adachi” is another highlight, that drifts into the realm of electro. There is some hints of an almost oriental sound that mirrors the origin of the bands name, “The Boxer Rebellion”, referring to the “Righteous Fists of Harmony” a group that challenged the power of the Chinese state and laid siege to Beijing. The whole episode ended bloodily and not in The Boxers favour, as you would expect if you tried to lay siege to Beijing.
The tail end of the album (much like this review) begins to drag though, as the same sound repeats itself to often. The multilayer, fuzzy guitars harmonizing with Nathans increasingly grating vocals come and go to often and on songs such as the six minute plus “Misplaced”, seem to go on for an age. There are some wonderful chestnuts on this record, but you have to wade through a few to many fuzzy guitar riffs and generic melodies to find them. The problem is that there is simply to much of this stuff about, piles and piles of it packing the shelves of your local record shop. Is there enough originality on this record to make it stand out from the crowd? I’m not to sure. But it is non the less a good listen, with a few genuinely excellent songs, that might help afford it “lost classic” status many years down the line.
And if that does happen, the hardy soul who hangs on to their original copy will in 50 years or so turn up on Antiques Roadshow 2059, hosted by a decomposing Fearne Cotton, present their rare CD copy of “Union” to the expert (a bespectacled Paul Morley) who will say “gosh what happened to them” and “didn’t we all look a bit silly in those skinny jeans….£2000 for this indie relic at auction” “what this old thing”, the hardy soul will reply “haha never”.