“Take me to the distant past, I want to go back” is the demand that heralds the chorus of Everything Everything’s latest lead single. It’s a refrain at odds with the forward-thinking psychedelic pop that the Manchester foursome have been moulding since their Mercury-nominated debut Man Alive established them as a more palatable Yeasayer with craftier ideas. However, no lyric should be taken too literally on an EE album, nor too overtly seriously. Indeed, Get To Heaven offers up this reviewer’s favourite line of 2015 so far in the form of “do you ever feel like a fat child in a pushchair, old enough to run, old enough to fire a gun?” I have no words good enough for those words.
It isn’t only EE’s lyrics that are stronger than ever; the compositions on Get To Heaven are imagined and moderated with a self-awareness largely lacking on their first two records. Where Man Alive had too many ideas and follow up Arc too few, the band’s third record is filled just short of the brim with creativity. The last half inch of space lets everything settle, and leaves plenty of room for movement; Get To Heaven uses its head.
Take album opener ‘To The Blade’. It undulates between dense and sparse, angst and release by modulating Jon Higgs’ exposed vocal acrobatics with full-on glitch-rock soundscapes. This blend transitions through phases of escalating opacity and finds a rich, layered euphoria, which is then blasted apart by an exploding chorus line replete with plunging riffs, electronic pulses, a pert drum line and vicious temperament. Such a breadth of sounds and ideas might well spell the kind of chaos of ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ and ‘Come Alive Diana’, tracks from Man Alive that EE barely managed to keep a rein on, but ‘To The Blade’ is a picture of control, tempering creative abandon with artistic restraint. Where ‘Come Alive Diana’ felt vaguely nauseating by the time an incongruous horn interlude concluded an overwrought affair, ‘To The Blade’ builds and builds and then pulls the plug prematurely, paving the way for ‘Distant Past’ to start from the bottom and re-assemble many of the same components.
You could spend months unpacking the layers and riddling out the album’s motifs, both lyrical and sonic
With patience and diligence, it starts sparsely, amassing a compact scape and then dropping back to a lonely vocal again, all the while flitting between subdivisions to give the allusion of a changing time signature. There’s a self-referential quality to the unhinged precision of the opening pair of tracks – a wry smile at one’s tearaway teenage self that places Get To Heaven in the careful, carefree twenties.
Picking up from ‘Distant Past’, it becomes quickly apparent that time and speed are themes of the record. Lyrical pace yoyos between relentless drive and graceful lethargy over a frenetic bed of drums and synths on ‘Blast Doors’, which somehow creates a sense of moving backwards – as if the music is literally reversing time. “You can fire a rocket at a rocket, it’s the future” comments Higgs, a long way now from the distant past. Album highlight ‘No Reptiles’ exaggerates this formula further as lightning speed delivery gives way to a soaring refrain, all set over the same lone, strident beat.
At times too Get To Heaven seems to play out like a disordered narrative, adding fuel to the burning disorientation. ‘Zero Pharaoh’ repetitively spews the demand “give me the gun” before the dawning realisation of ‘No Reptiles’ that our fat child is “old enough to fire a gun”. You could spend months unpacking the layers and riddling out the album’s motifs, both lyrical and sonic, and this hugeness may explain Get To Heaven‘s lone shortcoming, which is that, whilst the songs are kept expertly in hand, the album as a whole runs away with itself a touch. It’s a sprawling work masterfully held together for the most part, but loose ends come in the form of ‘Brainchild’ and ‘We Sleep In Pairs’ – immaculate songs in their own right, but dangling threads in the context of the album’s tapestry.
The record keeps giving and surprising right to the close, with the swagger of ‘Only As Good As My God’ acting as an encore following the refreshingly vocal-free curtain call of ‘Yuppie Supper’. It’s an album made straight-backed by ambition, teeming with otherworldly moods it would never even occur to one to feel and moments of complete strangeness wrought with familiarity. Its creativity is matched only by cleverness, and is as much a show of what can be done with a blank canvas as what shouldn’t be done – it’s a lesson in where to draw the line. Final and unequivocal deliverance of the promise of ‘Photoshop Handsome’ is fulfilled by a record that pushes and pulls in directions that experimental darlings alt-J have not yet been bold enough to reach for.
A Mercury nomination is a dead cert, assuming the guys even choose to to enter; Get To Heaven is a defining turn, where Everything Everything stop demanding to be heard and simply command it. With a furnished flat and a steady job, this is where the real fun begins.