Review by: Gimpleg
It’s been 8 years since The Subways last full length album and Uncertain Joys was definitely worth the wait. Whether it was the change of roster, adding Camille Phillips to drums, or the 8 years between albums, or just a natural change that came with age, the fifth album for the UK based Indie punk trio is their best work to date.
They’ve released 4 of the tracks from this album as singles over the past year, so a lot of their fans may have a really good idea what they are in for, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the whole album. The guitar hooks are catchier, the drums are cleaner and carry several songs with driving rhythm that just pull you along. This song reminds me of a well executed modern take on early 80s synth pop. Every song feels much more full and rich than your traditional 3 piece band. Charlotte Cooper’s backing vocals are great throughout the album and add a richness and flavor that just doesn’t exist in most bands with male vocals and backing.
I don’t intend to do a full song by song breakdown, but I do want to discuss several of the songs and the highs and lows of the album.
The first song on the album is “You Kill My Cool”, one of the aforementioned four singles to predate the official album, but it is the perfect track to introduce the album. Coming in with some drums and introducing synth and guitars, a sound unheard on previous albums, everything cuts momentarily as a clean guitar riff carries the intro to the song. This is one of the catchier guitar riffs on the album, but it is emblematic of the fact that this album is full of catchy guitar riffs that will carry you through songs. The bass and the drums do some heavy lifting through this track as well, without ever being showy as Billy Lunn’s vocals are catchy but not quite drawing you to sing along much more than echoing “you kill my cool” through the chorus. Instead his production is more of a highlight through this track with the subtle backing vocals of Charlotte Cooper adding a nice depth to the track. If I could summarize the whole album with a single track, this would have been it, and they placed it at the top of the album as a thesis statement for what to expect.
The next two tracks really step up the texture and musical flavor of the album. “Love Waiting On You” was another single, so you might know what to expect here, but Lunn’s vocals really carry this song. The verses are enchanting and the chorus makes you want to sing along and again Cooper’s backing vocals add a depth and enhance the quality of the chorus. “Uncertain Joys” is the first song not previously released and is similarly vocally carried. The drums and synth make this feel like an 80s dance party- David Bowie or Madonna could have played after this song and it would have fit right in except it doesn’t feel out dated at all.
Ironically, “Incantation” is the first spell that didn’t completely cast a spell on me. It has all the right elements, simple, catchy guitar leading through the song. Some of my favorite drums from the whole album. Reasonably catchy lyrics that just don’t manage to make me want to sing along. It’s still a good song, and better than several tracks from previous albums, but after such a strong start to the album, this one just doesn’t quite get me excited. It also contains the first signature Lunn yell reminiscent of Rock & Roll Queen, and it feels a little out of place and doesn’t add much to the song.
Black Wax is the most recent single from the album and is absolutely beautiful. The vinyl sound through the song is a beautiful addition. Again the drums are great and produced perfectly to make the listener notice them throughout the song, with more melodic backing vocals from Cooper. Lunn references several musical influences through the song which only reinforce my belief that the album very intentionally takes on certain pop and punk (but not 2000s pop punk) sounds throughout the album. The video put out with this song is absolutely stunning and worth watching to appreciate the song even more.
“Lavender Amelie” is the acoustic song on this album- as is traditional on each previous album. The synth on this track makes it feel vastly different from previous acoustic tracks, and the pacing feels very different from the rest of this album. The lyrical content continues to explore the Uncertain Joys of the main character, but ultimately this song shifts the feel of the album, feeling almost like longing or yearning in tone, while sonically and textural sounding like it was written to fit in the early scenes of the movie Labyrinth.
The next track is easily my favorite track from the album and the first single released. This album is a mix between the sounds of the first album and the sounds of this album, it carries, vocally, like the rest of this album, the guitar and drums are more rock and less catchy, but the treasure of this song is the message. Lunn clearly wrote this track as a response to the George Floyd murder at the hand of US police and the following black lives matter protests, and excellently used his voice to show unity to the disenfranchised and to call to action to those with privilege. The verses beckon us to sing along, the choruses demand it. The symbolism is powerful, if not a little on the nose. The video that accompanies it is powerful and overall I think this is the best song The Subways have ever put out.
The next four tracks are all fitting with the early half of the album- and do much the same thing. They are each worth listening to, excellent drums and guitar, catchy lyricism and excellent production. We do catch a few more Lunn shouts that don’t feel like they add to any of the songs, but also don’t really take anything away, just feeling unnecessary. “Influencer Killed the Rock Star” is a social commentary on the need for bands to focus too much on social media as opposed to the music promoting itself. Of these late album tracks, my favorite is definitely “The Devil and Me” with a nearly intoxicating vocal rhythm that sucks me in and makes me want to just play the song on repeat.
The last track on the album is a seven and a half minute track called “Futures” which feels like four very different tracks in one in style, energy, and pacing and ends reminiscent of secret tracks popular on CDs through the 90s.
Honestly, this album is a must listen for anyone who is a fan of Rock music, Indie music, traditional pop, or punk music. It captures so many genres, and the production is top tier. You can tell this trio vibes great together and it’s refreshing to see a band with more female members than male members. I’d like to hear a song with Charlotte Cooper on lead vocals (she did lead vocals on a B Side track but it was only a 90 second track and lacked the energy of the songs on the album).
Be sure to check out the album and all of the band’s socials here.