Stagecoach often find their Twitter feed interrupted by many people irate at the hapless bus company of the same name. Much like the amount of time it sometimes feels as if a London bus (the city most of the band now call home, having relocated from provincial Dorking in Surrey) takes to come along, the band have taken 10 years from their inception to the release of their debut album ‘Say Hi To The Band’ – and you thought Axl and co eked out ‘Chinese Democracy’ a little too long. After several fantastic EPs and singles, released with a typical Alcopop! flourish (one single came in a pizza box), the five-piece finally have a full-length to call their own. Over their considerable lifespan, the band have established a reputation for themselves as a quirky and accessible slacker-pop tour-de-force, playing countless riotous live sets including prestigious slots at Reading & Leeds festivals and End Of The Road. The grunged-up indie rock of before remains, but ‘Say Hi To The Band’ finds them experimenting with different sides, to glorious effect.
The album kicks off with ‘Work Work Work’, the recently-released video for which featured several fans getting sweaty in a practice space. Beginning with a riff that might put one in the mind of Oasis’ ‘Rock And Roll Star’, this is classic Stagecoach; party-friendly and engaging, and the retro synths and additional female vocals provide the cherry on top. ‘Action’ carries on in a similar vein, their line of influence from bands like The Lemonheads, Weezer and Pavement shining through on this one, and previous single ’56k Dial Up’, though a little slower and downbeat, picks up the pace towards the end and completes a powerful introductory trio.
Here, however, is the point where the album diversifies massively from anything Stagecoach have released before. ‘A New Hand’ sees them move into wistful, introspective Americana, reminiscent of acts like Wilco. The band started life as a two-piece of singer Luke Barham and guitarist Nick Tanner playing country-fried folk, and this sees an evolution of that style, peppered by horns and “gang vox” (not just exclusive to hardcore, you know!). It arrests the pace a little with its placing next to the faster ‘Threequel’, which is more in keeping with the album’s opening gambit, but shows a dimension to Stagecoach rarely seen previously.
‘King’s Resolve’ proves an excellent introduction to the second half of the record, bringing keyboardist Tom “Chop” Lewis’ more stringed side to the fore, with his mandolin getting an outing – how many other bands do you know with a mandolin player? ‘First And Last’, however, is this record’s centrepiece. A sprawling epic clocking in just shy of 6 minutes, Matt Emery’s steady drumbeat backs a strong build to an ecstatic final flourish, where squealing trumpets undercut Luke Barham’s soaring vocals. Even more so than ‘A New Hand’ before it, this should stun Stagecoach fans of long-standing, as Rory Attwell (formerly of Test Icicles, producing credits include The Vaccines, Yuck, Male Bonding and Palma Violets) brings out the very best Stagecoach have to offer.
The handclap-filled ‘Nothing Leads You Astray’ and reworked fan favourite ‘We Got Tazers!’, first released back in 2009 bring things back to familiar ’Coach territory, before the closing tracks bring yet more to the table. ‘I’m Not Your House’ is lo-fi indie at its best, with John Harrington’s bass really coming to the fore on this quieter and charming number. Much like most lyrical content on this record, closer ‘VideoShop’ mulls over adulthood and the transition from twenties to thirties where the scary stuff really starts to happen – this one centering on how there are some jobs, like working in a video rental shop, you simply can’t go back to. It brings the curtain down on an extremely accomplished record indeed – measured, mature and considered, this walks the tightrope between what Stagecoach have been known and loved for to date and pastures new absolutely spot-on, and both existing fans and newcomers alike can find a lot to love here. A minor gripe with this is Luke Barham’s vocals are occasionally unable to stretch to the limits the song requires them to, hence this being just below a perfect score, but otherwise, ‘Say Hi To The Band’ is a marvellous piece of work. Just don’t let the next one take another decade, eh boys?
‘Say Hi To The Band’ by Stagecoach is released on 13th May on Alcopop Records.
Words by Ollie Connors