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Welcome to the official Distractions website. We will be aiming to record the history of one of the greatest, but least heralded, of all Manchester beat groups.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mancunian sons of pop

Another of the many reviews the new album has received this year.  This one is from AllGigs' Paul Pledger - a long-standing Distractions aficionado - at the FlipSideFlipSide Reviews site:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Distractions - The End of the Pier
CD/vinyl/download - Occultation

Post-punk's long-lost, but not forgotten, bittersweet Mancunian sons of pop herald triumphant return with first album in three decades


In 1979, The Distractions released a brace of memorably melodic, frenetic, frantic and unforgettable singles, before succeeding in obtaining a deal with Island Records and disappearing under a fug of critical adoration and poor sales.  Haven't we heard and read all of this before?  What makes singer Mike Finney's charges any more special, any more deserving of further praise and review?  In short, they were painfully ahead of the game. 

In the late '70s, being initially signed to indie-labels (or not signed, in the case of Factory) pretty much constituted a requirement to sound rough, ready and rebellious, even still mildly angry with what life dished out after punk.  The Distractions were gloriously detached from such notions - they were pure pop, with a gritty world-weary edge and a penchant for easily-hummed choruses that hid tear-jerking and self-effacement.  Those first few singles illustrate this description - listen to the original TJM version of "It Doesn't Bother Me" or the timeless beauty of their one Factory single, "Time Goes By So Slow" or their cover of Eden Kane's superlative '60s hit, "Boys Cry".  The latter is perhaps something of an unlikely template, a signature tune of sorts and helps to pinpoint just what this band were all about - hopeless romanticism, '50s and '60s pop a la Billy Fury or Buddy Holly and a pre-cursor of Pulp and ex-member Richard Hawley's splendid solo canon.

Time does indeed go so slow - it's been 32 years since a new Distractions album hit the shelves, a time when opening song "Waiting For Lorraine" heralded the beginning of a largely-ignored but priceless debut album.  2012 is an altogether colder era, but there is warmth aplenty heading out of Manchester once again - it's coming courtesy of the follow-up to "Nobody's Perfect", the aforementioned Island album.  Never mind the Dexys, here's the real bollocks.

"The End of the Pier" is the third chapter in the rebirth of the lovelorn outfit and the culmination of a rare batch of recording sessions with Occultation's label-guru and the man behind Granite Shore, Nick Halliwell.  Many of the songs hail from the mid-'90s and are steeped in the trademark fumbling adolescence and bitter adulthood that laced those older recordings.  Recently recorded, assembled and painstakingly given a hug and a kiss in Exeter, via Holmfirth and New Zealand (the key songwriters' chosen residencies these days), "The End of the Pier" is a beguiling cocktail of reflection, hardships and emotive tug-of-wars and a prospect so unlikely a few years back that its very existence should make you want to rush out and buy a copy and give it a good home.

There isn't a duff song on here - from the opening sparkle of "I Don't Have Time" (as opposed to that same time that used to go by so slow), the bottom-lip trembling "Wise" and the comparably jaunty "Girl of the Year", you have three stone-cold classic songs in the making after just ten minutes.  One track that stands out as a single is "Boots", mercifully not espousing the virtues of a nearby chemists but rather a three-minute blast about 'coming back' and 'finding a pair of boots to fill'. 

Finney's voice still sounds fragile, still sounds jaded, heartbroken and utterly woebegone while Perrin can still make the whole thing sound like a trip to the seaside with subtle hooks and riffs, seemingly from another age, yet with one foot in the present.  It's refreshing to hear all the raw nuances left in, rather than being auto-tuned or rejected - this album's strength is its spiky, spunky, sparky attitude, found on songs like "The Summer I Met You", "Boots" and "100 Times".  And then comes "The Last Song".  The fact it's called this already has appreciating admirers of The Distractions reaching for the Kleenex - this could be Finney and Perrin's last song, who knows?  My only grumble is the label couldn't squeeze any of the brilliant six songs that made up the previously-issued Occultation EPs, "Black Velvet" and "Come Home" - "Lost" and "Still It Doesn't Ring" would have fitted in perfectly here.  It's still glorious, with or without this pairing.

"The End of the Pier" is like finding a previously treasured scrap-book in the loft, blowing the dust of the covers, opening the pages once more and finding solace in the inclusions within, only to find photos and memorabilia you'd completely forgotten about.  It's a good feeling.  The same as dropping the needle back to the first track on both this and that debut album all those years ago. 

To buy "End of the Pier", head straight to Occultation here.  

For live shows (and archived reviews), head to Allgigs here or for related Factory gubbins, go to Cerysmatic here.

(c) Paul Pledger, FlipSideFlipSide.

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