They say you should never judge a second Speedboat EP by its cover, but a fruitful glimpse at the artwork adorning “Better Men” – released on 0800 Moshi Moshi Records – charmingly foretells the lustrous treats lying in wait. Nakedly blue-steeling the viewer with retrograde quiffs – so feathery and windswept you could roller-skate across them – brothers Jonny and Will Griffiths bathe themselves in a smutty, angelic glow. It’s all redolent of the chintzy synths and drained cocktail glasses that populate this Brighton duo’s vaseline-smudged fantasies.
Aside from the propulsive new-wave charge of ‘Sadie Grey’, and the chaotic, Sparks-esque sugar rush of ‘Russki Radio’ (the latter tributing octogenarian Paul McCartney’s ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’), ‘Better Men’s currency of choice is the swooning downtempo, honey-butter ballad. The titular opening track offers an almost-over-bearing schmaltz-fest of phase-heavy vocoders and fuzzy keyboard power; cards weighted on the table with impenetrable poker face. Likewise, the EP’s chief beauty, closer ‘Your Life and Mine’, gushes out a tear-streaked romance of heartthrob imagery- “I stopped drinking, and now I overflow”.
A charismatic combination of frothy textures, plus a connoisseurship for the ditsy cheese-pop line, hallmark Speedboat’s velvety aesthetic. But rubbing against this, shoulder to cried-on shoulder, is a socially-conscious spikiness in their subject matter. Mid-lockdown frustrations about Tory Governance subtexts ‘Theodora’, a tune “about getting a striptease from the Statue of Liberty.” ‘Sadie Grey’ tackles long-distance love-troubles amidst Brexit-bound border closures. “D-Sports” is sung, no less, “from the point of view of a right-wing, evangelical father who believes that Baphomet is using TikTok as a conduit to possess and baptise his son into the Church of Hell”. (In typical Speedboat fashion, ‘D-Sports’ also bears hooky-as-hell, Bay City Rolling refrain: “boys want to be there, girls want to be there, it’s ALL about Saturday night.”, because nothing shall hinder the pursuit of cabaret entertainment, ultimately.)
As the great Joe Strummer once said, “you can’t start a revolution without hair gel”. While calling Speedboat’s pop ‘political’ might over-exalt a band whose choruses include ,”oo touch me Theodora, oooh let me explore ya”, this sprinkling of tacks, touching the 80s ironies into the gristle of the present, provide a well-whetted sharpness to all the goopy decadence. There’s a distinct edge here that enables Speedboat to transcend their gimmicky exteriors and become a pop vehicle of definitive engagement. When the Great Revolt finally comes, Speedboat will play the main stage, handing out the combs, the ointments, the keytars, the condoms, so we might all liberate ourselves fabulously.
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