If you were to trace the genealogy of the music I love, you can follow pretty much everything I listen to now back to a cassette I had in my youth back in the early nineties. It had two albums, one on each side, as was the way back when home taping rather than illegal downloading was killing the music industry. If you left the house you didn’t go with an iPod with forty or fifty albums, you went with the tape that was in your walkman. And if you didn’t get around to changing the tape that often, you ended up listening to the same albums over and over, which meant that the music left a very strong impression. On one side of the tape was Happiness by The Beloved, but this review has got nothing to do with that. On the other side was an album of alternative country-folk tinged indie, with clever lyrics, predominantly about breaking hearts and drinking. My first listen to the Sweet Sweet Lies album took me right back.
The passage of time hasn’t been especially kind to The Wonderstuff, whose album Never Loved Elvis (and consequently their other albums too) meant so much then and continues to mean a lot. Thankfully Sweet Sweet Lies have carefully skirted around some of the Wonderstuff’s biggest issues. Lead singer Dominic Von Trapp isn’t an a annoying gobshite like Miles Hunt, and since the nineties are long gone no one in their right mind would dream of dressing like a Grebo (I’ll let you google it) – the band have opted for the complete other end of the spectrum and dress in suits for their stage wear, making them a strong contender for the smartest band in town.
My second visit to The Hare, The Hound & The Tortoise gave me a completely different perspective. I’d had the album on repeat on my iPod and it started up two thirds of the way through. While openers Capital of Iceland and Overrated Girlfriend might have given a first impression of a band of upbeat fiddles and guitars, and Winter of Discontent hints at more flamenco / mariachi direction with it’s trumpet and Spanish guitar, there’s a lot to be gained by sticking around to listen to the rest of the album too, where genres – square pegs trying to fit into round holes at the best of times – drip away to reveal songwriting in the classic style. Tracks like No-one Will Love You (Like I Do) and Too Drunk To Love are more likely to recall The Divine Comedy or Gene, both in their vocal style and intelligent lyrics (in fact, Sweet Sweet Lies supported Martin Rossiter on a recent solo tour). Singing duties are split between the two songwriters Dominic Von Trapp and Michael Hayes, with Dominic’s distinctive style, more crooner than modern pop star, making you truly believe that he would readily drink you under the table then steal your girlfriend.
The high quality of the songwriting as well as the consistency, strength and dark humour in the imagery in the lyrics throughout put Sweet Sweet Lies not just head and shoulders above most other bands in Brighton, but everything else that’s on offer too. This is an incredibly accomplished debut that the band should be truly proud of.
The Hare, The Hound & The Tortoise by Sweet Sweet Lies is out now on Something Nothing Records, and the Brighton launch for the album is at the Jive Monkey on Steine Street on 24th February.