The Fireworks – Switch Me On (Shelflife)
A major factor in keeping indiepop – genuinely underground guitar pop, as opposed to major label ‘indie’ – alive through the years and generations has been the fact that it is impossible to play convincingly without a hefty injection of energy and naïve enthusiasm, and that its simplicity allows for personalities to make the tropes their own.
In fact, these are the chemical elements that create the emotional adrenaline produced by the genre’s best exponents, a class into which The Fireworks have forced their way with jumble sale-elbows. The band is far from without precedent, as I’ve written before, and they play an intentionally and fiercely raw form of melodic ‘craft’ guitar music, with chromosomes dominated by the inherited genes of punk and C86.
Back to indiepop itself for a minute. There was an archness to the Buzzcocks and Ramones which was replaced in the more tuneful mid-1980s bands by sincerity, a sincerity which pissed the more cynical parts of the ‘alternative’ audience off, but which allowed subsequent bands to connect with a reduced but committed following which has remained loyal and sometimes creatively fertile through the years. The current indiepop crowd runs seamlessly from teenaged to middle-aged, much like its bands and much like the audience that follows 1960s garage and its revivalists.
Also like the garage bands, the music has evolved incrementally rather than in leaps, but a modern-day indiepop band sounds not-so-much like the first wave while still being instantly recognisable as genre-specific. ‘Pop’ here is used counter-intuitively as a signifier of a guitar classicism that has changed little since Subway Records shut up shop, and is defiantly subterranean in its existence and ambitions.
All of which is the circuitous route to telling you that you’ll probably know what you’re getting. But you’ll also get specifics to The Fireworks themselves, and they sound unique despite the obvious window dressings and influences. But from the action painted sleeve, the first and penultimate screeches of amped-up feedback, and the minimalist fuzzed-up arrangements, this is trad punk-pop, clearly influenced by the Shop Assistants/Flatmates axis of 80s indie, but is also audibly not those bands.
Pared down arrangements allow personality to cut through: Emma Hall’s earnest, double-tracked tunefulness is a step forward from the slightly more florid style she had in Pocketbooks, and distorted bass and fuzzed double-layered guitars have a thick, idiosyncratic tone.
The band know precisely the sound they want, and dish out a boom-crash-fuzz union of lurching minor keys and broken hearts and confusion, a bit like your own relationship with your significant other or desired one. Another punk connection is that, like Pete Shelley’s words (the clearest lyrical antecedent here), main songwriter Matthew Rimell’s lyrics are rendered almost genderless – though they are very occasionally directed at a man – by their simplicity and universalised by being sung by a female. They become emotional blank canvases by their lovesick punk titles: With My Heart, Took It All, Switch Me On, Back To You, In The Morning. These are classically teenage love concerns, the universal insecurities that we conceal as we descend into adulthood but that always stay with us. This approach boils relationships down almost to their chemical constituencies.
2013’s popper-rush of a single, ‘Runaround’, is matched by the melancholy post-hardcore harmonics of ‘Stay Here’, the only song on the album not written by Rimmel, but by ex-Wedding Present/Popguns drummer Shaun Charman (adding further genre cachet by his presence).
The overall unvarnished rawness emphasises the occasional shot of colour that surfaces, taking the form of Spiral Scratch-level overdubs, occasional smears of reverb, the emergence of an acoustic guitar on the final coda song, a bare drum and bass intro, some three-note lead guitar fragments. ‘Let You Know’ has a touch of the Flying Nuns about it, while ‘Final Say’ atypically breaks the 3.19 minute-mark to allow for some prime destructo-guitar mangling.
Switch Me On prunes its genre almost back to the roots, a savage act that allows the resulting shoots to glow and grow. It’s hard to see where the band might go from here, but in its context, that’s not the point.