How can I put this?
Romeo Trading Co. are electroclash without the clash. They are Interpol conducted by O.M.D. They are New Romantics without frills. Oxymoronic but definitely not moronic. Their name is archetypal eighties: it is a business letter to a loved one; it is Gordon Gecko crossed with Glenn Medeiros. However, this takes us no further in our attempt to capture their essence. Let’s try again.
Romeo Trading Co. are a traditional quintet with keyboards and one and a half guitars (depending on singer, Richard Copeland, whose gravitas is somewhat lessened by hopping off stage between songs to retrieve his telecaster). A list of the records they own would describe them well, I suspect (Tears for Fears? Joy Division? Duran Duran?). Not because they are derivative – they don’t sound like anyone in particular – but because they are steeped in that eighties tradition spawned by Scary Monsters-era Bowie. Whereas most bands on the London gig circuit expose unsightly peculiarities, Romeo Trading Co. are blemish-free and minimalist. Now we’re getting closer, but not close enough.
Romeo Trading Co. are not eighties revivalists. They are often just as edgy as their rockier contemporaries. Tonight’s opening song, Uniform, has an almost barbwire spikiness. Also, their songs can accommodate both simple mesmeric keyboard riffs one minute and petulant bass, drums and guitar the next. Better still, they are not afraid of letting the songs breathe. Closer still.
Romeo Trading Co. are bleak, but not always enough for my liking. If only Martin Hannett were around to smash glasses in the background. Only on their final song, brand new and as yet untitled, do they go beyond cool to chill to the depths. It opens with menacing bass and drums followed by the best keyboard sound this side of Gary Numan. The chorus is straightforward, but effective:
Now you’re on own you’ve got to make it on own.
Now you’re fully-grown got to make it on your own.
The music becomes sublime as the drums beat out a machine-gun rhythm. Romeo Trading Co., one realises, will not be captured by a list of attributes. They are an intriguing sum of their irregular parts. Potent and polished, they need to be seen, though you may not know what to make of them.