THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES
Heaven, London, September 13
"There goes my life, and all that I had to face, with the human race and the children of denial..."
It's cold, it's barely 8 o'clock, the venue's only half full, I've imbibed so much dry ice it's making my lips taste funny, and already the show's about to start. No support, no time to get settled in, no ambient bonhomie, and almost no atmosphere - just a show hurriedly staged in a venue that would clearly rather not have had to give a shit, attended by diehards, fanatics and true believers who will, inevitably, be unceremoniously be flung from the premises once the nightclub is due to start. Such factors are, in a way, a quintessential part of the story of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives - and part of the reason they will disband after their subsequent European tour dates.
Or will they? As the always be-robed druid of a frontman that is Ebbot Lundberg states onstage, "You never know. Anything could happen". And on one hand I'm sad to see a band whose talents I have touted for over 12 years bow out due to lack of recognition and loss of impetus. But on the other, maybe now is the best time to pack it all in, with six (seven if you count the B sides and rarities comp) flawless albums under their belt and not ONE single bad song on any. After all, if they were to immediately reform a year down the line to chase the promise of some industry-engineered greenback dollar, it might seriously compromise the integrity that's been integral to their oeuvre since they started. Which, in turn, is part of why we admire them, whereas the world at large still remains unaware of them.
Ironically, as we rapidly discover once 'eminent journalist' David Quantick has delivered an introductory eulogy the people in the industry who seem the most concerned about their imminent demise are in a way those responsible for it, particularly Noel Gallagher, who delivers a video message bemoaning "a sad day for rock n roll", without realising that it was his attempts, regardless of how much he loved the band (and, let's be honest, spent half the last decade teefing their best melodies), to market SOOL at his knuckle-dragging, sportswearing hordes that effectively killed them off for good, placing them in a netherworld where authentic psych-heads no longer took them seriously but fans of 'geezer indie' also remained nonplussed.
I mean, seriously, can you see your average Oasis fan digging a tune called (not that they played either tonight, but you catch my drift) 'Firmament Vacation' or 'Interstellar Inferiority Complex', and enjoying the work of a band who look like they've just stepped out of 1969, with hair and beards to match? Of course not. You'd be lucky if they could even pronounce them, never mind appreciate their exploratory psychedelic depth. At this gig, though, there are no such worries- the minute they amble onstage and introduce 'All For Sale', its extraordinary beauty immediately wraps itself round the audience, which grows slowly with each song, and by the time it segues into the brooding, Link Wray-inclined tones of 'Believe I've Found', the sonic barrage has overcome the limitations of the unprepossessing metallic venue and unified us all. Such tunes may be considered a little sombre for openers, but again, part of SOOL's magic was always their ability to question, sidestep and eventually ignore the expectations of the corporate rock world, and even without that, is this not in some ways a solemn occasion?
The answer is of course yes - but a solemn occasion that will soon grow into the raucous mother of all parties. Each ensuing tune - the baroque, floral 'Where's The Rock' from the new and final album, the saturnine, moody 'Lost Prophets In Vain' the stomping, Townshend-ian thrudge of 'Confrontation Camp', the insolent fury of 'Infra Riot' or the balls-out swagger of 'Thrill Me' - adds a little more, and a little more, and yet more. And when they take it away again, slowing down the gears for the organ-drenched shiver of Gothic menace and dripping distortion that is 'Broken Imaginary Time' or slipping into the unrehearsed, plaintive bucolicism of 'bonus' tune 'We'll Get By' it's only with a sense of knowing exactly what they're doing and why, a moment of light relief before another storm of controlled yet chaotic angry beauty explodes in your face.
Truly, never before have a band managed to combine so naturally the wistful hippie dream of Love, The Byrds, Big Star and the rainy-day prog pop of Golden Earring(s), the Moodies and BJH with the uneasy, jagged, adrenaline roar of the Stones, Who, Elevators, MC5, Stooges and Feelgoods (as well as the defining influence of their countrymen such as November and the Mecki Mark Men) into one cohesive whole, whilst simultaneously creating their own trademark sound. And there's every chance that nobody will do it after them either. Yes, there have always been riffs you can spot the origin of a mile away, such as 'Safety Operation', which, 14 years on, still sounds like 'Street Fighting Man', but homage and plagiarism are NOT the same thing, which is why anyone who truly understood music in the last 18 years would have been happy to take the Gothenburg lysergicaries over any bunch of monobrowed Mancunians anytime.
Indeed, any sonic similarities between SOOL and any 90s indie combo, even the great ones like the Carpets and Charlatans, should thus be taken as entirely accidental, more down to a sharing of the same influences, and the fact that the shadow of those first Roses and La's albums is too large for any retro-inclined music lover since 1990 to escape: but to even use the word 'retro', I'm actually doing disservice to a band whose unshakeable belief in this music recognises not boundaries such as decades or eras, only an ongoing, constant faith in its sonic tapestry. Thus 'Sister Surround', the Metal-inflected single that was supposed to catapult them to fame back in '01, still thuds with the confidence of a band who know they can turn their hand to almost anything, ten times harder than the recorded version, but to these ears still represents the watered down version of themselves they almost became after the overproduced (if still excellent) Behind The Music album: my one complaint tonight is, as ever with a band you truly love, that there isn't enough time to play ALL the classics you'd love to hear, and while it must be hard to make such choices, a couple of selections could have been chosen more wisely.
For this very reason, 'The Passover', one of the more slight tracks from their masterpiece Communion, whilst serving as exactly the "singalong gospel" number Lundberg proclaims it to be, sounds almost pedestrian compared to the sheer magnitude of 'Second Life Replay' from the same album, which grows from the barest semi-acoustic trickles of Ian Person and Matthias Bjared's ringing strings to a swooping, hollering, sliding rollercoaster of emotion and propulsive backbeat. However, it's also because of the immenseness of that very performance that such minor quips are almost instantaneously forgotten. And such exploratory trips into the transcendental are thick on the ground tonight, with the middle section of 'Faster Than The Speed Of Light' extending into a 6-minute raga-like drone that really should have been included in the album version, keyboardist Martin Hederos holding down Lamonte Young-length monotone chords of evil under monkish, hypnotic vocals, and 'Mantra Slider' spinning in even greater whirlwind howls of Brit revivalist blues, thumping barrelhouse piano and Franciscan feedback than ever before.
So, when and where will it end? At any SOOL show, once inextricably strapped at over 70 miles an hour to the back of their hairy, leather-clad interstellar comet, this inevitably becomes the question driftng through the transoms of the attendees. At this show, it's more pertinent than ever, as it really WILL be the end. It comes, unsurprisingly after the three-pronged attack of 'Galaxy Gramophone', 'Grand Canaria' and 'Instant Repeater 99'. I'm at the front by now, and as Ebbot bellows "I'm ready to close my eyes, I'm ready to blow my mind, I'm ready to leave you all behind" right in our collective faces, a moment of sad realisation drifts over us that he is actually about to. Then, following a thunderous, almost speaker-destroying finale, the lights are up and he, together with the other five members of the most important Scandinavian band since Hanoi Rocks, has. Quite possibly forever.
Yet, as we file slowly upstairs to the quite frankly cack aftershow party (promptly departing, after a brief chat with fellow fan Christian Livingstone of the Datsuns- now that's the sort of company they should have been keeping - to a nearby real ale pub) the feeling is not one of loss and regret at the gaping hole now left open, but joy at the fact that for several years, we were lucky enough to witness what once stood in its place. Right now it may look as though, to quote Chris Morris, the idiots won, but in years to come, when the history books are written, we who loved and appreciated The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, and made them the soundtrack of our lives, will be recognised as among the truly enlightened. They came, they saw, they threw it to the universe, and while they may have never hit the big time (except in their own country of course) they will forever remain both ten years ahead and behind- legends in their own minds and ours.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON