I’ve read countless reviews since my late 1970s musical baptism, and in all that time, I have never quite managed to understand why bands seemingly need to be pigeon-holed into a certain musical genre; and (of equal irritation) how an objective view can somehow be passed off as accurate insight into the mind(s) of the songwriter(s). Maybe personal thoughts and reflections translate into concepts and themes that are glaringly obvious; and I am simply emotionally and culturally lacking…
Or perhaps my Latin literature teacher was right all along: you can never be demonstrably wrong about any work if your interpretation or conclusion is well-reasoned and cogently-argued.
That said it helps when the poet in question died before Jesus was born, and by definition is considerably less able to contradict opinion than a twenty-something musician living roughly 250 miles down the A1.
I’ve seen Doe’s style described as “punk-tinged indie rock”–well that seems to cover most bases. Long gone are those simple, yet glorious days when (in the words of Stiff Little Fingers’ Henry Cluney), punk was “one, two, three, blam, blam, blam” for three minutes; and any lyrical mention of witches or dragons would immediately consign a band to the heavy metal dustbin.
If anyone is able to explain exactly what “punk-tinged indie rock” actually means, my plaintive request would be: “please don’t”. The record that has influenced my life more than any other is All Out Attack, a 1981 four-track EP by Blitz. Punk, skin, hardcore, Oi! (for Someone’s Gonna Die has that very word in the chorus)… I didn’t really care how the music of New Mills’ finest was unofficially defined; their sound was raw—brutal distorted guitars and rasping intimidating vocals—and for one particular seventeen-year old, it was “real”; and that was (and still is) all that mattered.
So, genre aside, what is it about Doe that makes their album stand out?
The band is unusual in that none of the three members (Nicola Leel, Jake Popyura, and relatively recent addition Dean Smitten) play bass guitar. One of the two guitars is apparently a baritone (although my uneducated ear thought it might have been a bass), and another interesting element to the dynamic is that one of the two vocalists (Jake) sits behind the drum kit.
Dave Clark (he of the Five) was a drummer who sang lead vocals; and one of the most wonderful voices in the history of popular music belonged to a drummer: Karen Carpenter. There are others, but I’m carefully side-stepping Ringo Starr on the basis that he was neither a great singer, nor….
The vocal strength and range of Nicola and Jake are obvious throughout the album’s ten tracks, but something exceptional happens when their voices combine. Their harmonies are mostly melodic, but occasionally discordant—an obvious allusion to the theme that life’s relationships don’t always work out, because people are not always what they seem….
Actually, this is so much easier than I thought!
Nicola seems to have a natural ability to convey emotion through her vocals: from heartfelt and impassioned, through to angst and barely suppressed anger, via the ironically over-enunciated f**k right off delivery at the start of Monopoly. Jake has a great voice too, and he gets his chance to take centre stage in Before Her, the album’s outstanding highlight.
From personal experience comes a raw emotion that is incredibly difficult to manufacture; and in a sense, Before Her is every bit as “real” as that aggressive anti-violence anthem from ‘81—and that makes this song very special indeed. The instrumental power simply adds to the intensity of the vocals, but the final minute contains a stunning build-up to a wonderfully haunting finale that genuinely moved me. The other song with a notable ending is Respite; it is not nominally the title track, but the album’s title is contained within the lyrics, so presumably that counts. It is a fascinating composition (wasting time discovering “pointless truth” about the past), which culminates in a totally unexpected atmospheric section—a few moments of melodic introspection that The Edge and Adam Clayton couldn’t have bettered.
The first single from the album was Sincere, a pretty good choice as it showcases almost all of the band’s finest qualities. The song builds from a fairly quiet start to a crescendo of guitar sound with Nicola screaming in anger at the unravelling of the pretense of a person who claimed to care. It’s very hard indeed not to be hugely impressed. The strong tracks continue… Turn Around, Anywhere and Last Ditch, either add more dimensions, or build on rock-solid foundations. If there’s a weaker moment (and it’s as comparative as it is subjective), it’s the album opener No.1, which just hasn’t resonated with me as much as some of the other songs, but when one of those songs is Before Her, it’s hardly a criticism.
So what else is there to say? Doe may not (yet) be a household name, but they have a musical style (or styles) that should appeal to a wide audience, as well as the ability to write and play songs that deserve to be heard. Some Things Last Longer Than You is a superb album; sadly the same will probably not be said about my review.