The Popguns - Pop Fiction - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Popguns - Pop Fiction

by Jeff Penczak Rating:10 Release Date:2014-12-02

I have a confession to make to Simon Pickles, the genius tunesmith behind the Brighton band's reunion album: I’m in love with the missus. There, I’ve said it and I feel a whole lot better. A few months ago I stumbled across a home video (turns out it was by the band’s bassist and web guru Pat Walkington) of a 20-year-old track called ‘Someone to Dream of’. I was dumbfounded, astonished, and besotted all in one breathtaking moment. The slow build, the eager anticipation, all leading to the final orgiastic release - here was rock 'n' roll's version of Ravel's Balero all rolled into 5 minutes!

Who is that singer and where has she been all my life? For that matter, who are The Popguns and where have they been all my life? Being an unfortunate ol’ sod born across the pond where the musical politics are almost as dirty as dear ol’ blighty, the lack of an influential label left them off the airwaves and out of the fanzines. In short, I’d never heard of ‘em.

Instant gratification in the form of an internet search (you were expecting a different kind, you ol’ bugger!) revealed a small, but manageable back-catalogue, with the aforementioned masterpiece, one of the most heartwrenching plea-cum-put-downs ever committed to plastic nestled on their lone US release, albeit on an obscure German label known for its disco releases. No wonder I couldn’t find it. Frantic internet searches revealed that all four original albums were long out of print and used copies were trading for extortionist prices on the internet.

So imagine the surprise and astonishment that had me bopping up and down like a little boy on Christmas morning when I discovered that good old Simon and most of the original line-up (Tony Bryant now mans the drum-kit and they’ve added a second singer, Kate Mander, to fill in the harmonies) had returned to active duty and were set to release a reunion album. This be it, and without hesitation, I can assure you in no uncertain terms it’s the best pop album you will hear this year.

For starters, Wendy Morgan (now Mrs Pickles…in the studio…with a microphone – sorry, that Clue joke was just too much to resist, but I’ve got it out of my system now) has lost none of the lustre, the yearning, the emotion which ripped my heart out as soon as I heard her. It’s a voice that is romantic, nostalgic, imploring, full of pain and fear and loss and anger and, well, now I’m standing here gushing like a lonely schoolboy (apologies to Mr Weller).

I’ve been in relationships that ended, mostly due to the object of my affection’s loss of interest, and no one has captured that gutted feeling more perfectly than Wendy (sorry, do I call you Mrs Pickles?) Go back and listen to ‘Someone You Love’ and their life-changing single ‘Waiting for the Winter’ from the Eugenie debut, and you’ll know what I mean. Thank you, Mr Pickles, for capturing that emptiness and helping me to realize that I’m not alone. As I look back on those relationships, I can get through the tears whenever I listen to the missus express your own sentiment with that angelic voice.

So, now to the matter at hand. A new album of 10 boss tracks that show the band at the peak of their form, having lost none of their energy, passion, and gift for perfectly formed jingle-jangle excitement. ‘City Lights’ opens with a lengthy (in pure pop terms) guitar passage, before Wendy’s voice flutters into the room as crisp and emotive as ever. 

By the time she accepts the end of the relationship (“Say the words and I’ll work away/ City Lights are fading far behind”), it’s clear that neither Pickles have lost any of their old magic. The melancholy is still there, but, as always, the resignation and acceptance of their characters’ fate makes them stronger to go out there and try again. As she sings in closer ‘I’ll See You Later’: “I’m a different person now/ I’ll see you later/ I’ve got my life to live”.

There’s an incessant, power-poppy sensibility to ‘If You Ever Change Your Mind’ that is honey drippin’ with the elegance and sweetness of the recent Primitives album (Spin-O-Rama), while the early single ‘Lovejunky’ sounds like it was recorded for the eponymous album 20 years ago – the band chugs along in double-time behind Wendy’s hesitant, cautious vocal: I can’t fall for the wrong guy… again. Pickles’ solo is perfectly placed as a sorbet to help us catch our collective breath.

‘Still Waiting for the Winter’, like ‘Lovejunky’, is a nostalgic look back to both the band’s earlier triumphs and the song’s characters “second chance” at love. The original’s beat (and lyric) have been softened, it’s now a forlorn ballad of regret of what might have been rather than an angry diatribe against the wanker that dumped our heroine.

Along with the punny album title, these nostalgic, self-referential songs suggest that Pickles and co have lost none of their collective sense of humour and are having the time of their lives with their recent successes, which have resulted in sold-out concerts from New York City to Paris and Germany, and a few haunts a little closer to home (cf the Prince Albert, Brighton’s Haunt, or Plymouth’s Cooperage).

The dreamy ballad ‘Out of Sight’ begins side two in reflective mood, Wendy and Kate’s vocals blending seamlessly for another tearjerking classic. Grab a loved one and hold on tight for some slow dancing to this one. ‘Not Your Night Tonight’ continues in a chill-down mood, with Wendy’s voice as angelic as ever, pain and loss seeping from every pore and Kate softly whispering around her in sad, melancholic harmony. The band are also in a hazy, drifting mood here – toning down the jangle and perfectly complimenting Wendy and Kate’s soothing, comforting vocal.

It’s refreshing when an old love returns bearing gifts and souvenirs from the good old days – inviting an opportunity to relive past memories and wonder again what might have been. These songs are rife with that nostalgic mood, but like “someone you loved” who’s moved on, when you reconnect, it’s comforting to know they’ve survived and you can now look back on those days and have a larf and accept the hand life dealt you.

The Popguns are back after 20 years. Some, like the Pickles are married with children, but it’s amazing that after all these years, they’ve got the whole gang back together and have picked up where they left off without missing a (back)beat. Good on ya, this is how it should be done. Now about that reissue project :).

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