Difficulty: Luxembourg and the Free French
I often wonder about the value of difficulty. Life, as you get older, seems to be more a case of avoiding the things that annoy, rather than actually getting any easier. And yet difficulty and frustration have their uses: they make you stronger; they make you more focused; and they can raise the bar of normality so that things which were once difficult seem easy. If this is true, then should you actively seek out difficulty and frustration, or is life difficult and frustrating enough already? Should you go with the flow or make a stand?
Luxembourg’s debut single, What the Housewives Don’t Tell You, is a brilliant distillation of everything they’ve done over the last two years. If they had been signed any earlier, it is possible that they wouldn’t have reached these heights. Unlike most bands stuck in the wilderness of the London gig circuit, they have actually evolved, constantly improving their set and refining their sound. Nor do the other tracks let them down, sounding like A-side material by anyone else. Close-cropped has a boyish innocence reminiscent of fifties rock ‘n’ roll as it lists each part of a desired body (“I want your close-cropped hair and I want it now,/ I want your well-groomed nails and your tended brow”). Finally, Pin Me Down is a tragically beautiful song about romance and sexual inadequacy. Luxembourg have gone against the flow and are all the stronger for it. They next play on the 7th of September at the Islington Academy.
In comparison with luxembourg, the Free French have had it easy. At least, on the face of it. After spending the most part of his adult life sat in the insalubrious transit van side of the music industry (playing guitar in The Keatons, tour managing Spearmint and Pere Ubu, plus various producing and promoting assignments), Rhodri Marsden had enough contacts to guarantee the release of his entirely self-made debut, Running on Batteries. Fortunately for him, it earns its existence through fine moments like the weird disco-Britpop of Everything’s Sublime and the single Do you come here often? Second album – It’s Not Me, It’s You – was far more consistent (they’ll make a great ‘best of’ one day), containing literate and quirky pop songs like Making a List, Metaphorically, Talking Nepalese and Ghost Writer. The keyboards were emphasized more, the guitars were sharper, and the songs were more confident. But like luxembourg, one gets the impression that the Free French are only now starting to come into their own.
Last night’s gig at the 100 Club was like a microcosm of their career to date, starting off somewhat erratically with insufficiently warmed up vocals, before steadily ascending into a great finale. Indeed, it was only with the sparkling new song, The Letter T, that Marsden found his voice and everything came together. After that, we got the best of the second album and some very promising intimations of the third. You’re the Boss and Fireman, in particular, are something else, and played with such brio.
The Free French are burgeoning into the kind of confident MOR band who can stand proudly next to Prefab Sprout and Steely Dan.