Carson Cox wasn’t bluffing when he said Merchandise would be re-creating them-selves as a pop band. The Tampa five-piece have never been afraid to experiment, as previous album ‘Totale Nite’ proved, but surely this was a case for mischief making? More fool me for doubting his claims, as in front of me is a modern day homage to the 80’s alternative music scene.
The 10 songs on ‘After the End’ draw firmly from the likes of The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen. All previous traces of punk and experimental rock have been swept away by a powerful new sound that is clean and well organised. There are no more drawn out riffs, seven to ten minutes tracks (see previous LP) and high tempo’d experimental rock. Instead you have a set of tracks that are not only well written but also extremely well produced. In fact, the LP was recorded and produced by the band, this time over a six-month period in the house they share in Tampa. Gareth Jones mixed the album and that may explain some of the 80’s resonance as he was responsible for most of the early Depeche Mode material.
‘Telephone’ and ‘Green Lady’ ooze this new found direction, with the latter’s introduction almost sounding like that of Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’. ‘Looking Glass Waltz’ could have come straight from ‘The Queen is Dead’ as Cox’s vocals eerily sound like those of Morrissey’s. The comparisons are not meant to take anything away from the tracks. There remains and originality to them as the ‘Merchandise’ trademark is still there, but hidden away behind the clean-cut pop chorus’s.
It’s a massive risk to create something that is such a huge change in direction, groups with a larger following have travelled down this road and stalled. Throughout the writing and production stages it must have crossed the bands mind that they could possibly alienate a percentage of their current fan-base. However, the new sound is invigorating and a step in the right direction for ‘Merchandise’. The entire album feels more natural and more importantly flows, unlike the sometime fragmented LP’s of the past. The darkness of Cox’s baritone voice remains and hopefully that should be enough for the existing fans. However, looking at the larger picture it’s clear this new album will draw in fresh fans as it’s simply more approachable than ‘Totale Nite’ and ‘Children of Desire’.
I don’t think ‘After the End’ is the finished article as there is clearly still room for the band to mature as songwriters, performers and as a whole. However, one thing is for certain is that this newly found pop-path should be the start of something very big for ‘Merchandise’
‘After the End’ is released on the 26th August 2014, via 4AD. The full track-listing is as follows…
5.Life Outside The Mirror
8.Looking Glass Waltz
9.After The End
10.Exile And Ego