The bad production – combined with two singers who can barely sing – makes it easy to overlook Robert Forster’s and Grant McLennan’s songwriting chops; the drums in particular sound flat. But taken individually, almost every song is a pleasure; the band’s more eclectic instrumentation throughout succeed in turning a grey world into at least a monochrome one, and the pairing of post-punk with jangle pop (though much less naturally than R.E.M., but that’s a given) means they have the blistering energy of the former and the melodic guitar of the latter, especially on songs like “In the Core of the Flame” (which is the catchiest song of the bunch, even taking the two singles into account) and “Palm Sunday (On Board the SS Within)” (really odd percussion sound, which might be from a muted guitar). Other highlights, in order as they come: the pairing of Marr’s jangly guitar with a country bass on “Spring Rain,” nudged along by the drumrolls; the backing vocals in the last instance of the chorus of the same song; the Irish jig of “The Ghost and the Black Hat”; the ominous guitar riff and thin string of “The Wrong Road”; the piano and vibraphones twinkles over the heavy bass of “Twin Layers of Lightning”; the solid jangle of the overrated “Head Full of Steam” (good, but overrated nonetheless) and “Bow Down” (lovely violin adding an emotional counterweight to the guitar).
Nothing as good as “Streets of Your Town” but slightly better overall than 16 Lovers Lane. Great title too, like something you’d want to read during a rainy day. Happy 30th!