REVIEW: The Crookes - 'Soapbox' (Fierce Panda Records)

Combining 50s era romance with vibes from the indie disco is something that Sheffield four piece The Crookes have been doing rather well for the last few years. They've produced some very promising moments, yet stretching the magic out over the course of a whole album seemed to prove a challenge for them. So while 2011's 'Chasing After Ghosts' and its follow up 'Hold Fast' certainly had a few high points, neither felt consistent enough to really hit the mark. With their third album the band realise their potential and move themselves up to a new level. A sense of isolation emerges every so often, maybe due to the LP being recorded in an old abandoned church located in the Italian Alps. But there are other things that characterise 'Soapbox', as guitarist and lyricist Danny Hopewell explains: “The most obvious theme that runs through the entire album is the idea of The Outsider. As a band that seems to suit us…never invited inside, but never wanting to be. I can empathise more with the madman standing on his soapbox, slowly gaining an audience by speaking with passion and honesty”.

Although George Waite's familiar croon is still very much present, it comes with more of an edge on the jaunty opener 'Play Dumb', admitting "I've had my mid life crisis by the age of 25" before bursting into a bright, singalong chorus. But underneath this light, there's always an undercurrent of darkness brooding throughout the albums ten tracks, evident within the self deprecating charm of the irresistible 'Don't Put Your Faith In Me', and the Smiths-esque 'Echolalia', both memorable tunes that make good use of their evocative lyricism.

The pacey 'Before The Night Falls' glistens with chiming guitar hooks and comes charged with vitality and vibrancy, storming into a powerfully emotive chorus. Towards the end, another spellbinding melody arises and knocks you off your feet once again. An exciting highlight that displays The Crookes at the very top of their game. The brief, beautifully dynamic 'Holy Innocents' is built around a sparse piano and vocal arrangement and the intimacy of a perfectly applied vocal, where every draw for breath is clearly audible. 'Outsiders' puts forward magnificent melodies that set the heart racing, and exemplifies the spirit of these bright underachievers who revel in being out of step with popular fashion, taking great pride in doing things their own way. 'When You're Fragile' has wickedly dark humour laying beneath its melodic charm, while the post-punk pop of 'Marcy' is a bit of a throwaway perhaps, but pleasing nonetheless and somewhat heavier than much of the LP. 

Proof of just how far the songwriting has come is demonstrated with the beautifully resigned elegance of 'Howl', one of those songs with a melody so good, it's hard to believe nobody thought of it before. Rounding off their strongest album yet is the triumphant title track, where feelings of doubt are turned around into a self assured rallying cry endowed with tingling optimism. Climaxing with a full throated surge of energy, it's a fine way to end an accomplished piece of work.

Something has happened to The Crookes. They've moved up more than a few notches to the point where they are no longer a promising indie band, but a great one. 8.2/10