The Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time
- David Pollock
- 18 January 2019
An affecting and masterful record from the Scottish group
This, then, is the album the Twilight Sad were born to make. Not that they don't have a decade and a half of under-the-radar glory behind them already, including four albums which might feasibly turn up on a longlist of Scotland and their era's finest over this time. Yet It Won/t Be Like This All the Time feels like the Twilight Sad at the point the world is finally about to catch up with them, aided by several months of touring with and performing alongside their greatest heroes The Cure around the world.
For their singer James Graham (one of the only two remaining founder members, alongside guitarist Andy MacFarlane), the five years since Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave have brought an emotional rollercoaster, from the Cure odyssey, to new fatherhood and a move from Kilsyth to Glasgow, as well as the still-numbing loss of his friend Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit.
From a purely artistic perspective, all of this sounds like it has translated into the music. It Won/t Be Like This All the Time isn't the sound of the Twilight Sad having all they might ever want, but a loud and resonant echo of humans straining against fragile doubt and uncertainty to achieve the very best they can; and the pursuit of perfection always, always sounds more real and affecting than the attainment of it.
Yet this music is joyously, typically glorious, great cresting waves of guitar washing over Graham's tender but resolute (and resolutely Scottish) vocal. The opening '[10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs]' is a mighty statement of intent, a spiky, squalling looped guitar riff which burrows into the brain, alongside a glistening cascade of synthesised keyboard chords and Graham's voice, driven to the edge of anger by the impossibility of making connection. He sits on the phone all night, hollering 'do they understand you? / do they call out your name?' in vain at an unresponsive friend or lover.
The effect of it catches you in the throat. This is as close to greatness as the Twilight Sad have come, you might think. 'Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting' is more conventional, a sodium-lit guitar racket which perfectly complements Graham's voice once more, its emotional tone and scope batting away the efforts of those bands who once achieved great recognition on a fraction of what this group have; everyone from Interpol to Editors.
'The Arbor', which most likely references the late playwright Andrea Dunbar in its title, and the following 'VTr' call to mind a sense of pastoral, northern English borderline post-industrialism; they sound like The Smiths in their prime, in other words, from MacFarlane's swaying, swooning guitar rhythm to Graham's injured, neglected sense of loss. It's this sense which permeates the record; of loss – of love and of other people – and of rootlessness in the face of it. Yet the music says get up, get on, grab onto whatever you can and hold on tight. 'It won't be like this all the time,' Graham croons on the tender 'Sunday Day13', and he casts aside a toxic influence with a determined 'I can't stand to be around you any more' on the mighty, strident 'I/m Not Here (Missing Face)'.
These are tracks which pack great emotional weight, but – much like Mogwai, the bosses of the Twilight Sad's new label Rock Action – the band have become more accessible than ever. In 'Auge Maschine' (it translates as 'Eye Machine'), for example, they have a song so recognisable it could turn up as the theme song to a Netflix drama, while 'Keep It All to Myself' and the synthesised, *almost* danceable 'Videograms' are so melodic they would have been big hits back in the days when their mentors The Cure regularly occupied the charts.
'It's just another heartbreak to me,' sings Graham, resigned but optimistic, on 'Let's Get Lost', its title harking back to both Chet Baker and Ride. It's been some journey, and it might be tempting to say the Twilight Sad have finally arrived at their masterpiece, were it not so palpably possible that this is just the beginning.
It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is out now on Rock Action.