Disclaimer: I arrived quite late to the Reverend & The Makers party. I think it was summer of 2009, Forge Press had me covering a gig at the O2 Academy in Sheffield. I only knew the one song with Tim from Bromheads (‘Bandits’) and had no idea what it was going to be. I enjoyed ‘Silence is Talking’, probably much more than War‘s lawyers did.
But something struck me that day: there was a sound, like the Britpop I grew up with in the mid to late 90s, seeping through the dance and riddim tricks. This probably became clearer when the Mongrel and Reverend Sound System projects came and went, taking a few houses by storm.
So, what was Jon McClure and his gang playing at? @Reverend_Makers was less political than A French Kiss in the Chaos and although fans consumed it, general consensus was not favourable. I thought it was a good party album, but who the fuck listens to me anyway?
Thirty Two was released at the beginning of 2014 and someone else in this Shithole of a Website (TM) called Sloucher.org took care of it. The sound was still a party sound, but it was no longer college freshmen getting sworn into fraternities, it was a bacchanal.
And then we have Mirrors. Synths are currently in storage and what the fifth album by Reverend & The Makers brings is a slice of 60s pop. Smatherings of psychedelia swirl with baroque pop arrangements to create a different atmosphere. ‘Amsterdam’, ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Making babies’ go for the swankier arrangements of lounge pop: easy going, the odd synth line and the sing-a-long harmonies that might push McClure‘s vocals into the back, but brings the essence of the band as a whole much tighter. The crisp sounds in ‘Making babies’, captured in the many sonical snare traps of Dave Sanderson, are one of the finer moments in the album.
‘Stuck on you’ taps on the groove of ‘London Calling’, but it still is an 0114 affair altogether, with a few flanger-heavy bits that hark back to the hippie days without the unfortunate smells. Now, putting aside my usual cynicism, it feels that this section of Mirrors is the band’s finest hour. ‘The Beach and The Sea’ is an inconsolable track that builds from an acoustic lick into greatness. Laura and Jon McClure‘s voices convey feelings thoroughly, sometimes allowing subtlety take over. It’s the probably the finest arrangement in Mirrors and the production is impeccable.
Speaking of production, I got on the (virtual) phone with producer Dave Sanderson and asked him his thoughts on the recording process and the final product. “I’m pleased with how the integrity of the original idea and concept is inseparable from the songs. The overall feel of the record and its consistency as a body of work. Reaching for things I’ve never done before.“
It’s not all about introspection and longing. There are, well, “bangers” in here. I’ve never fully grasped the meaning of the word, probably never will, but there’s a definite mood swing. ‘The trip’ kicks things up, ‘El Cabrera’ segues like the lost intro to a Taco Thriller (the Mexican non-unionised equivalent of Spaghetti Western!) and ‘Blue’ wraps it up. It’s a nice change of pace, but again, the story doesn’t end.
‘Something to Remember’ is another fantastic song. In the style of the lost romantic Brit songs of the seventies, ‘Something to Remember’, with its subtle production and lush instrumentation, wraps things up neatly in less than 2 minutes. ‘The Gun’ lets the bass take over during verses and lets Ryan Jenkinson‘s drumming take over during chorus. This back and forth gives the song its strength. Top ending too.
Laura McClure takes over for the stark ‘The Mirror’, an unsettling trip through dark recesses that signals for help in Morse code. As much as I enjoy the “throw all the instruments into the recording room – PRONTO!” approach, sometimes you do need to go into less is more territory and ‘Last to know’ goes for a mostly acoustic guitar approach, with Ed Cosens‘ picking taking the prize home. ‘Lay me down’, the closing track, is a close throwback to the older sounds of Reverend & The Makers, but something changed along the way and the final drones, fading slowly into oblivion, remind you of that. Look in the past, but never too long, as it cannot be changed any more.
Let’s call this the mirror image of Happy Mondays’ Yes Please. Where the Mancunian’s sojourn to Barbados proved catastrophic, Reverend & The Makers trip to Jamaica added another layer to Alan Smyth and Dave Sanderson‘s already top-notch musical tinkering. Mirrors excels at being the less Reverend-ey album by Reverend & The Makers, which is the most McClure thing you could possibly do. It could’ve been safe to stick to the anthem & dancefloor hits that the band delivered curtly on their previous efforts, but there’s a greed that has driven the band from the beginning. Not in a monetary sense, but in the sense of wanting to make something memorable. What was missing on their previous albums? I can’t quite say, but Mirrors, in its introspective, baroque pop, finds it.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López