Money And Celebrity

The Subways

Cooking Vinyl, 2011

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I’ve always been a sucker for a band with a narrative.  The music is the heart of the matter, of course, but if the music grabs me at all *and* it’s coupled with an interesting behind-the-scenes story of the people in the band, well, count me in.

While The Subways’ narrative is fairly complex, their music, to date, is not—it’s melodic punk-pop, thrashy at times but mostly very riff-and-chorus-oriented, with the one really exceptional element being the vocal interplay of singer-guitarist Billy Lunn and bassist-harmony vocalist Charlotte Cooper.  In terms of sound, you could do worse than to describe them as what it might sound like if Green Day and The Go-Gos combined into a single power trio.  The vocals are where the magic really happens, adding a lushness and texture that’s uncommon for this sort of fairly aggro power-trio attack.

The context is where the complexity lies.  Lunn and drummer Josh Morgan are brothers, and Cooper is the high school girlfriend Lunn drafted to play bass so the three of them could be in a band together.  Then Lunn and Cooper got engaged, then they got a record contract, then they made a record, then they toured the UK, and then they (Lunn and Cooper, that is) broke up.  And four years later, The Subways are still making records and touring together, because all parties seem to have been wise enough to recognize that the sound this particular trio makes together is unique and special and vital. 

You imagine that the fact that Lunn and Cooper are each others’ exes might add an element of combustibility to the whole thing, and maybe it does at times—2008’s All Or Nothing certainly had some of the elements of a breakup album—but with Money And Celebrity, it seems like Lunn and Cooper have moved on successfully to a new stage of their relationship, now collaborating as extremely compatible and complementary musical partners.

The irony of my focusing initially on this aspect of Money And Celebrity is, of course, that the album itself centers on the theme of modern celebrity culture and how the public has a prurient interest in the lives of people with whom we have no real connection, we’re simply a mob of voyeurs peering in the windows at them.  That said, there’s no self-conscious, postmodern irony happening here; The Subways are nothing if not doggedly sincere. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Certainly, there’s little subtlety and no irony in smash-you-over-the-head party-on jams like “It’s A Party” and “Friday.”  With every track here coming in between 2:42 and 3:37, and not a ballad in sight, this album plays like the relentless soundtrack to a basement-club rock and roll rave.  Really, it’s the kind of album that used to be labeled “play it loud”; at first listen there’s little subtext here, just fat, thrashing chords and in-your-face vocals. 

Ah, but don’t be so quick to judge.  Sure, jet-fueled anthems like “We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time” amount to pure adrenaline channeled into melody—but then you realize they’ve snuck a message into the mix: “Not gonna be the fools who don’t know who they are / Not gonna be the fools who just say blah blah blah.”  And there you have the keys to The Subway’s little universe; this trio knows exactly who they are and they don’t try to be anything else.  That authenticity is perhaps their most appealing trait: take it or leave it, they seem to be saying, we’re not trying to impress anybody here, we’re just letting it rip.  Call it the Zen of sweat-soaked rock and roll.

And ”Celebrity” actually does get profound for just a moment when Lunn sings of his fame-hungry subject: “She doesn’t care if you stop and stare / She just doesn’t want to be alone anymore.”  Figures from Marilyn Monroe to Lindsay Lohan would understand that line instinctively.  Lightening things up momentarily, “I Wanna Dance With You” and “Popdeath” are the poppiest tracks here, the former a tender-hearted plea, the latter a surprisingly upbeat elegy for dead popstars, with Cooper’s “yeah yeah yeah”s in the background just the right touch.

Things get darker and heavier with “Money” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” before “Rumour” comes along to lighten the proceedings up again with a big thrummy anthem.  “Friday” follows with a killer riff and catchy chorus rhyming the two emotional poles that dominate throughout this album: elation and frustration.  Closing out strong, “Leave My Side” tries hard to be a sweet love ballad on the verses, but there’s trouble in paradise and the choruses explode into a wounded interrogation: “Are you gonna leave my side tonight?”

The breakneck pace sustained here does feel a little much by the end—or maybe I’m just getting older.  The beauty of this album is that, four records into their career, this trio still sounds like a group of kids that just really want to have a good time playing music, and they’ve gotten pretty damned good at it.

Money And Celebrity provides both the continuation of an intriguing narrative and 12 tracks’ worth of solidly entertaining, if not exactly mutilayered, music from one of the tightest and most unique bands on the punk-pop scene today.  The Subways’ signature sound is a platform they can use to build whatever sort of career they choose; maybe their songs will start to dig deeper as the band matures, or maybe not.  For now, they seem content to be the pedal-to-the-metal house band in sweaty rock and roll clubs all across the UK—and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2011 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Cooking Vinyl, and is used for informational purposes only.