Friday, June 25, 2021

With their classic, Britpop-inspired sound, The Shop Window prove nostalgia can still rock

Fronted by Carl Mann and Simon ‘Syd’ Oxlee, The Shop Window is an unlikely tale of two 90’s musicians reconciling to create a nostalgic sound with a fresh twist.

Carl and Syd’s musical journey started when over two decades ago the pair were given their first recording contract as part of the group Westpier. However, as many great bands of that era found out, it wasn’t easy cracking it in the saturated music market of the 90s. Mann ended up touring and performing with Kylie Minogue, even co-writing one of the singer’s B-sides. #

Yet, after some time on the other side of the world, he decided to return to his roots, both physically and musically. After reuniting with old friends Phil Elphee and Martin Corder, he soon recruited his old partner Syd, and with that, The Shop Window was born.

Recorded between 2019 and 2020, ‘The State of Being Human’ is a 45-minute blast from the past that re-imagines the classic British indie sound with a sprinkle of modern malaise.

The first track (and lead single from the album) is the summery ‘Mannequin Lies’. Amidst warm vocals and bright guitars, we find a song laced with positivity. “Open the door, I’ll be feeling the love,” they sing as if they are inviting us into their musical world of nostalgic fun. 

Snappy keyboards commence ‘Ride it (while you can)’ and see’s the positivity of the opener turn to anger and frustration as the band implore us to “stand up for what’s at stake.” The song, written before the pandemic, shows The Shop Window at their political best and could well be seen as a rallying call to fight for the changes we require to secure a future for our children.

‘Out of Reach’ finds the bands sound homing in on post-punk edged music akin to The Cult, whilst ‘Break Down Walls’ starts with a riff reminiscent of The La’s Britpop favourite ‘There She Goes,' before developing into a sing-along anthem that will keep your head nodding throughout its entire three-minute run time.

A rallying cry for the future can also be heard on ‘Calling out.' A bass line, evocative of Duran Duran’s classic ‘Girls on Film,’ proceeds a track filled with mellow vocals and a chorus of lambasting drums and urgent guitars. As The Shop Window sing that “Time moves on / The future needs to stay,” we see a group at home tackling heavier subjects, yet they don’t allow such weighted lyrics to get in the way of a catchy chorus.

‘Disengage The Robots’ continues the political theme, this time pointing to a malaise found in today's society, as all meaning of life seems to be lost to superficial gains. As “the world turns again like there’s nothing wrong,” The Shop Window at least allows us a glimmer of hope as their 90s vibe harks back to an era before the internet age of consumerism had taken hold.

The themes of nostalgia continue on ‘Flags,' where jangly guitar riffs intertwine with harmonised backing vocals to create a wall of positivity. Here, the band once again shows their ability to create a memorable and upbeat chorus no matter the topic.

In an interview with Nexus Music Blog, lead singer and songwriter Mann claimed that the music found on ‘Evacuate’ stemmed from him watching his 4-year-old child play, following his movements with a guitar rhythm as he observed. However, the lyrics tell the story of the anxiety felt by the singer as he was unable to settle in one place – living in nine places in nine years. Lyrics such as “Evacuate this anxious state and keep calm” will echo with anyone who has suffered from similar troubles, yet the mellow vocal delivery and upbeat attitude mean it’s hard not to feel a sense of ease during the listen.

A riff, clearly inspired by The Stone Roses' ‘Fools Gold,’ and a voice that mimics Ian Brown are everywhere on ‘2nd Book.' Funky bass plays alongside a monotone vocal delivery on what is the most 90s influenced track of the album. It then morphs into a song that would have been at home on the Hacienda dance floor.

‘Sad Eyes’ is one of the more heartfelt moments on the album as the band explores the ravages of time. Written after Mann spent an afternoon with his 104-year-old grandmother, the beautifully composed lyrics haunt the listener even after the music fades, as he acknowledges that “All you have now is the past / The future has gone beyond your grasp." The melancholy is both upsetting and triumphant, showing again the band's ability to turn any subject into an uplifting and catchy tune.

The penultimate piece on ‘The State of Being Human’ is the band’s first attempt at a love song. ‘I Realise’ finds Mann accepting his feelings for another as he proclaims - “I realise it’s true, I realise it’s you." Whilst the topic of love may not be commonplace for The Shop Window, the heartfelt lyrics and passionate delivery are something we’ve come to expect from the Maidstone-based group.

Closer, ‘Jack's Lullaby,’ is a sharp contrast to all else found on ‘The State of Being Human’. The nearly four-minute instrumental is interlaced with dreamy keyboards and soft acoustic guitars before ethereal strings see the album out. 

The Shop Window has managed to create a nostalgic feeling album without falling into the pitfall that many others do. The music may well be vintage, yet their lyrics of disillusionment and angst are undoubtedly modern and with a combination of the two, they have managed to produce one of the most coherent and listenable LPs of the year.

James Ogden

Image Source – The State of Being Human Official Album Artwork

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