Incredibly this is only The Names 2nd album. Their first, produced by Martin Hannett, was Swimming (1982), on the boutique post-punk lounge label Crepuscule. A follow-up was mooted but it never materialized until now. Fresh from a few European dates last year and a terrific launch gig on April 16th in their home city of Brussels (see News/Features for further info and interview), The Names have now rolled up their sleeves and are ready to get their hands dirty in the world of Rock n Roll once again. No more Factory Records so its off to France and the alternative label Str8line a seemingly good choice of nurturing label on the strength of this release.
The 12 songs here show how the band have grown up without leaving their roots behind and this is certainly obvious on the opening 3 songs. I Am A Stranger Here Myself is all atmospheric strumming and a bit of good old ba-ba-ba-bah vocal, I Liked You Better When You Were Dead is Clash-esque riffs and sneering, while Flesh Wounds (a single in waiting surely) harks back to their previous life with energy released in a wave of McGeoch guitar shards and ankle-deep bass plus sympathetic synths colouring the edges. Yep, The Names are back and sounding pretty pleased with themselves and why shouldnt they? This is not a reformation of sorts, more like a reincarnation. This one works though. They pay their respects to Martin Hannett on Zeroes even stopping to add the trademark delay sound to the drums nice touch.
The Belgian quintet can also do pretty music Never Change is the long-lost daughter of White Shadow (from their debut) with its funereal pace and softly-softly winter piano and Friendly Fire is 8 minutes of sorrow and desolation la Leave Her To Heaven. Yet this is not a morose set and, sure, it does wear its homage-heart on its sleeve with open references to Magazine, The Cure and The Sound as well as their own unique blend of energy, but dig deep and you hear hope and playfulness: Traces would make a worthy radio single in fact. Two songs dont quite fit into the jigsaw Welcome To Your Real Life bubbles like an unwatched pan when played live but hearing it doesnt quite ignite for me and nor does the funky twitch of Halloween In June. These are not even bad songs, they just pale alongside the quality of the rest of the album. And so to the last 2 songs...Dreamless reminds me of another vastly under-rated band, Blue Aeroplanes spiced with a bit of David Byrne and a hook in the middle worthy of a pint or two, while the closing song In Time sparks up with a melancholic string refrain and solo along with a vocal drawn from the hat of Devoto. An epitaph of sorts, this surely points the way for further releases...
27 years is a very long time between albums by anybodys standards but this brave new release proves that many great things have come out of Belgium you just need to brush off the stereotyped image, crack open a beer and put on this bloody good album to be convinced. Worth the wait.