Territory: Europe including UK & Ireland
Agent: Peter O’Sullivan
“And now it’s back to work, as if I never left“.
It’s a lyric from The Sun Never Sets Around Here, the opening track on The Electric Soft Parade‘s long-awaited fourth album, and it couldn’t sum up IDIOTS better. Yes, it’s been a long six years since the band’s last record, 2007’s No Need To Be Downhearted, but they’ve not missed a step. “There’s not one overriding reason for the gap,” explains Thomas White, who with his brother Alex makes up The Electric Soft Parade.
They’ve used the time wisely, though. There’s been solo albums and session work, and times when no music was happening at all – personal tragedy saw to that – but even then, life was experienced away from the endless album-tour-album cycle they knew so well, inspiration was sought. After recording music almost solidly from 1997 to 2009, the pair needed a break – the time and space to dream it all back up again, to say something new. As a result, IDIOTS is their best album yet, possessing an as-yet-unheard focus, the brothers’ distinctive ELO-via-The Everly Brothers blood harmonies gloriously intact, not so much as a note surplus to requirements. “We just wanted to pare everything down to its most essential parts,” says Alex. “Everything on the record has to be there, and anything that wasn’t needed went.”
It started with the 10th anniversary of their 2002 mercury nominated debut, Holes In The Wall. Worthy of celebration, the duo called in longstanding live band members Andrew Mitchell, Matthew Twaites and Damo Waters and booked a string of shows. A full European tour with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds followed. It reminded the brothers of what they’d been missing, and with a newly energised fanbase they decided it was time to turn the 100-strong batch of demos Thomas had been working on into something more concrete.
Harking back to the happy days of recording their debut, they began tentatively sending out demo material, until sometime in very late 2011 the project was given the official green light. Having re-teamed with the producers of Holes In The Wall, Chris Hughes and Mark Frith, within weeks the band were holed up in Chris’ home studio in the rolling Wiltshire hills, laying down the foundations of the music you hear now.
When it came to the title, it was an easy choice. The song itself is a weird epic that takes in a lot of the sounds that ESP make as a group. “IDIOTS is us. We’re just a couple of idiots,” says Thomas. “But then so is everyone else. It can be someone specific, something very vague, whatever or whoever you want. It’s readable in different ways.”
Looking back on recording now, things couldn’t have gone better. Quality was top of the agenda, and it was important for Thomas and Alex to absolutely nail their vocals – no post-production trickery or double-tracking for them.
“You can lose so much clarity that way, but we wanted the vocals to be upfront and as close to perfect as possible,” says Thomas, mentioning Freddie Mercury’s voice as a key inspiration in recording, along with influences as varied as The Clientele, Robert Wyatt, Chicago and Pet Shop Boys.
Opener The Sun Never Sets Around Here immediately signals of IDIOTS‘ intent; a low-key beginning rising into a chiming, instantly familiar wall of guitars and hand claps. The glorious melodies continue with Summertime In My Heart, which sets lesson-for-life lyrics against Teenage Fanclub-esque backing.
Mr Mitchell is an ode to their friend and guitarist Andrew Mitchell – “He’s a great guy, so I thought he deserved a song,” says Thomas – while The Corner Of Highdown And Montefior, slow in pace and contemplative in mood, showcases the album’s heartbreaking side, just as Welcome To The Weirdness, with its soaring backing vocals, spoken word and synths, highlights ESP’s knack for the epic.
“We did spend a lot of time getting things just right,” Thomas continues, “and a lot of the songs are very serious, inspired by some horrendously sad things, but it was also just so funny making the album. Despite the subject matter, I’ve never laughed so much.”
Electric Soft Parade are due to release Brother, You Must Walk Your Path Alone, their first single in 6-years, on Helium Records. The track is available to download now via their website and iTunes on 16th April. Its parent album IDIOTS will be released on 18th June.
“Chris and Mark’s influence runs really deeply in us – they were the first producers we ever worked with,”says Thomas. “But this time around we know so much more than we did, too. We’re not little boys anymore. It feels like we’ve come home.”
They may just have saved British pop music
Full of regret, hard-won wisdom and DIY pop artistry, No Need To Be Downhearted transcends bog-standard indie to build a world of sophisticated melody and ingenious arrangements.
The Electric Soft Parade are one of the few young British bands to have successfully navigated the hype and emerged with something genuinely promising.