Album Review: The Slow Readers Club - 'The Joy of The Return'

As the Mancunian heroes present us with a similar sonic pallet to their previous releases, The ‘Joy’ of The Return of The Slow Readers Club lies in the diverse songwriting and refreshing vocal approaches from frontman Aaron Starkie.

Beginning with their home city of Manchester, The Slow Readers Club have slowly but surely earned the respect of an undeniable number of fans, from northern musos to indie kids with nostalgic tastes, and it’s no surprise. With a sound that blends early New Order with The Strokes and warps it into the modern age, their knack for sticky melodies and blown-up hooks sizeable enough to fill an inflatable Wembley Stadium was only honed on the Top 40-charting Build a Tower in 2018. Following sell-out shows at Manchester’s Ritz and the long-revered Apollo (a set immortalised in a 20-track live album last year), attendance at the likes of their mighty Northwich Library outing two years ago is now likely to turn more contemporary fans green with envy. The live setting in which they shine, however, is only fuel to perfect the Readers’ studio formula on their fourth full-length, The Joy of The Return.

"A showcase for the band’s effortless musicianship and grasp of sure-fire pop sensibilities."

While this is a formula which remains largely unchanged when one looks to the four-piece’s last few releases, it is a formula fit and refined for the modern yet seasoned indie fan, with the lyrical focus and the emotional range of Starkie’s already diverse vocal tones providing the main evolution in the finished product. Opener and lead single All I Hear is Readers doing what Readers do best, as the recurrent titular refrain is a guaranteed fist-pump moment by the time the quartet eventually hit the stage of the huge rooms booked for their currently postponed UK headline tour. The pop-leaning combination of Aaron Starkie’s falsetto, David Whitworth’s thumping hi-hat-snare dynamic and the piping guitar licks from Kurtis Starkie makes for a fine contrast with the aforementioned hook; a showcase for the band’s effortless musicianship and grasp of sure-fire pop sensibilities.

Likewise, Every Word is a standout piece of indie rock and a certain future fan favourite. Musically, it’s nothing spectacular; the deep guitar licks ricochet off the more assured percussion to lead into the chorus - but this time it’s the songwriting which launches the song above many of its predecessors in the tracklist. Sometimes (and especially when it comes to indie rock) you only need one line, and ‘It doesn’t do to drink alone’ more than justifies the adrenaline deficit in the instrumentation, with the depressive undercurrent of lyrics ‘Do the walk of shame with your mind in shackles, clouded by uncertainty’ more than likely to resonate in the Readers’ left-behind Northern heartlands.

"The trademark ‘Readers’ chants will no doubt be an even more formidable force on their next lap of the live circuit, as The Joy of The Return seeks to carve out its place in such unsteady times."

The Return’s 35-minute runtime is to be welcomed, as the only issues with previous releases were perhaps bloated tracklists that failed to compliment the band’s more immediate artistic style, but on occasion the fourth album’s pace is slowed by the lack of sonic diversity. There were perhaps better choices for a third single than Killing Me (see previous paragraph) which has little in the way of individuality in its predictable chord progressions, and the momentum of Jericho’s driving verses is killed on the spot by its overly sentimental chorus – Paris makes better use of Starkie’s falsetto on its tight and sticky ‘Take me back, take me back, take me back to Paris’ hook.

Surprisingly, such monotonies in the tracklist are strongly overshadowed by moments of supreme songwriting. Finally milking the dramatism which has always lain at the core of The Slow Readers Club’s music, Starkie is at his best lyrically on All The Idols, a highlight that opposes Every Word in its depth and existential scope. Poetically revelatory, the eighth track feels almost like a prospective soundtrack for the global crisis it would emerge within, as the frontman unnervingly proclaims ‘International blackout, wait so long for the fallout / Thousand people will come down, piling into the wall’ in a commandeering tone which seems to drift across the air within his vision of apocalyptia. Starkie’s unique Bernard Sumner-meets-the Hallé Orchestra wail finally finds its perfect calling on The Return, as the singer expertly accentuates the distinct qualities of each to match tales of varying dramatic proportion.

Image courtesy of Trust a Fox Photography

Despite the Readers’ vivid illustrations of the apocalypse-elect, one can eventually find contentment in closer The Wait. Each ‘Now you’re here, you are all that matters’ hook grows in vocal prominence and the philosophical urgency with which it is presented beautifully parallels the reliable group of followers The Slow Readers Club continues to amass. The trademark ‘Readers’ chants will no doubt be an even more formidable force on the band’s next lap of the live circuit, as The Joy of The Return seeks to carve out its place in such unsteady times.