The Stereophonics dropped a new album recently, I hadn’t heard much pre-release, I just noticed it in my Spotify feed and thought “I’ll give that a spin”. It’s not bad, but I was mostly struck by the sweet nostalgia of hearing Kelly Jones’ singing again and it put me in mind of the earlier ‘phonics stuff that I’ve listened to more times that I can possible remember, both on recordings and live. They were a band that were at the sweet spot for me releasing great guitar music as I was a mid to late teen leaning guitar myself. So I reached straight for one of my favourites with the album that launched them, the 1997 “Word Gets Around”.
I’ve written about what I like to term “the curse of the working class raconter” on here before and I reckon Kelly Jones is a prime candidate for that category. This album is full of stories, it paints a such a vivid picture of small town Wales, in fact the entire album could be a collection of short stories. Tales from the local drunk, the tragic suicide, the local lad taken too young, the unbelievable scandal – there’s so much here plotted out with fantastic lyrical prowess and wrapped up with powerful driving music and just great basic songwriting – guitar, drums, bass and vocals. Like the Arctic Monkeys who for me suffered once they were removed from the source of those early tunes I feel the Stereophonics, whilst they have produced great songs after this and some albums I love, have failed to match the seeming perfection of this snapshot of small town living.
The music is what keeps you coming back though, the album opens strongly with the aforementioned local scandal in “A Thousand Trees” and powers on with a heavier brash, Ocean Colour Scene-esque “Looks like Chaplin” and “More life in a tramps vest” but then the album suddenly feels like it arrives and the real heart and soul of the album in “Local boy in the photograph” bursts to life. Quite easily the standout track you can see why it was the lead single from the album.
There is an immediate mellowing as we take a moment to muse about being stuck in traffic, with a weirdly compelling song speculating about who the fellow travellers might actually be and then a personal favourite of mine “Not Up to You” which wraps up the A side. For some reason I had this on cassette, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I owned a CD player in 1997, though maybe not a portable one.
The B side then powers through more stories of drunkenness, small town life, chaotic weddings before rounding out with softly haunting “Billy Davey’s daughter”. Telling the story of a girl who drowned herself and, like most of the tracks on the album, apparently based on a true story. The higher pitched “she dreeaams” closing the song and the album lingering in the mind after the music stops.
It’s maybe coincidental that I recently listened to “The Art of Longevity” podcast with Teenage Fanclub and there was a talk about how older artists can still produce great music, yet get discounted sometimes, they’ve spent years honing their craft so should certainly be better at the processes and what they do. Sometimes it is hard to match that connection of early years though, it’s hard to remove yourself from the source and still write authentic sounding songs about an experience. The Stereophonics still write great music but there is something fantastic, something that just connects, in this collection of authentic lived in music experience. There are few albums that paint a picture so perfect, vivid and enjoyable.