For more than forty years, The Cure have occupied an almost bulletproof roost in the music firmament despite, as Robert Smith once claimed, them suffering dichotomously from being too eldritch for daytime radio but too mainstream for more niche programmers.
To an extent, that same devotional fervour has applied in miniature to The Twilight Sad since their emergence in the mid-noughties; in an era largely remembered as one defined by xeroxed indie landfill, the Scots’ impassioned, emotion-lashed soundscapes echoed the likes of Wilco and The Arab Strap equally.
Much has changed since the band’s last album, 2014’s Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, including the amicable departure of founding member Andy Devine and the tragic loss of a compelling, fraternal voice in Scott Hutchison. The experience of spending a year supporting Smith & co. on tour around the world was one which left an indelible mark though on James Graham, one half of the band’s now core along with co-creative pillar Andy Macfarlane.
The experience represented a Field Of Dreams style catharsis for Graham, who had a vision of a Twilight Sad no longer constrained by its previously narrow horizons. Drawing on a fresh intent to discover their own version of ‘Hugeness’, It Won/t Be Like This All The Time is a brave attempt at making a connection with a far broader audience than that of their past.
Mass consumption is a double-edged sword to be sure; the gift of being on a plane many can identify with whilst still retaining an aura of mystique is one their mentors have practiced from The Top onwards. The two universes aren’t mutual, but opener 10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs has that sort of quiet frenzy, Graham’s melancholy, dialectical whisper transforming into a scream even those who don’t want to hear will succumb to, a vigour and urgency matched by a performance that for first time finds him demanding to be heard.
It’s true that any direct connections between the two groups have been harder to make previously, but The Arbor’s smearing of melody and omnipresent doom, and the icily gothic blast of Keep It All To Myself, both add depth and atmosphere to the Sad’s usually epic sounding portents, joining dots which were previously much harder to see.
In the past there have also been more walls, usually wrapped in the anxious fog that Graham’s lyrics have piqued. It Won/t Be Like This All The Time offers his most personal testimony yet, expressions where every breath has a strangely radical vitality, whether it’s VTR’s ‘Monster inside of you/Someone that you never knew/And someone that we didn’t choose’, or the self-deceiver revealed on I’m Not Here (Missing Face): ‘Won’t stop if the tears turn bad/I’ll drink everything in sight/It doesn’t stop when your tears run dry’.
This passive aggression has always been part of the band’s DNA – even the album’s title, according to Graham, has a degree of consciously ambiguous double meaning – but if the desire is to master for themselves the public’s chequered relationship with their music it’s the panoramic glide of Girl Chewing Gum and the unrelenting, muscular embrace of Auge Maschine that throws open the door, songs that take life in outsider-dom and turn its weakness and vulnerability into a different kind of strength.
Human nature means breaking out of your own beliefs is always a near-impossible task. It Won/t Be Like This All The Time is the work of men who finally now understand they have a different purpose, one which could never be achieved from the outside looking in.