The time has finally come to review an album I've been extremely excited for since April last year, when I found out it was happening. This is going to be one of those albums that I find hard to review because it's by a band that I not only love but am friendly with. I'm going to try my very best to be a professional reviewer and not just write another love letter to a band that I genuinely think is the best band in the UK. The band I'm talking about is, of course, The Burnt Tapes. On February 22nd, the four piece release their long awaited and eagerly anticipated debut full length, Never Better, on Lockjaw Records and Wiretap Records. Before really getting into the review, I have to admit that when I received my advanced promo copy from Lockjaw I dropped everything I was doing to have a listen and had my mind blown. This is a very special album.
The album begins with its title track, Never Better. The song starts out slowly with some atmospheric feedback and a bit of guitar that leads you in gently. One of the first things I noticed on my first listen to the album is how guitarist Pan has stepped up to be co-lead vocalist, unlike on the band's previous efforts where Phil handles 90% of the vocal duties. This shift gives The Burnt Tapes a whole new dimension and really adds something to their sound. Never Better sees Pan take the lead on the track. After a slow build where he sings about trying to take each day one at a time in the struggle to feel better but never being able to look past your history, the song really explodes into life. This is a great opener for the album as lyrically it really grabs you, it's relatable and will get you singing along, fists held high in the air. The second song, Drift Champ '16, sees the Tapes put their foot on the peddle somewhat as the tempo increases and energy oozes out of the track. Despite the higher tempo, the song is still full of melody and hooks as the band take you through a song about the end of a relationship and how you won't talk about the problems you have despite it making you both miserable. A theme throughout the album is speaking of "broken teeth" which is a nice nod to the track Things Get Weird from Alterations. There's also a nod to Anti-Flag in the song's chorus with the lines "we never talk about it, just tip toe walk around it" borrowed from The Press Corpse.
Don't Make Me Play Bocelli was the second of two singles released in the build up to Never Better's release, check out the video here. This track is the first time we get to hear Phil take lead vocals on the album. Having the raspier vocal of the two singers, this gives the song an emotional feeling to it immediately and the pain coming from Phil's voice really pulls you in. The opening guitars had me thinking of Iron Chic (who I know the band are big fans of) with their intricate and jangly sound. Listening to the song, it's obvious to see why the band picked this as one of the album's singles. It's easily accessible to someone who might normally be put off by the gruffer side of the Tapes sound but doesn't stray away from why we love these guys in the first place. The next track, Yuzi, was the first single from Never Better, here's another video. When this single was released late last year it got a lot of people extremely hyped for the new album. It wet the appetite of long time fans as well as helping to earn the band a load more followers. It's an up-tempo pop punk track that has this melody that has you getting excited quickly. Incidentally that opening riff sounds a bit to me like a slight nod towards the early b-side Adrenochrome Heights. The song also reuses the line "home before the autumn" which was originally used on the tracks Alterations and The End Of Airlie Gardens. Yuzi is about struggling to re-find yourself after a break up and not wanting to go home until you feel like the darkness has lifted.
The fifth track on Never Better is named Maybe I'm A Method Actor. The high tempo continues here, carrying over the big energy feel from Yuzi. After a little introduction, the song has you quickly wanting to sing-along. Exactly how this type of music should make you feel. The song is about hiding how you're feeling and putting on a brave face to fool people. Again there's a couple of nods to previous Burnt Tapes songs. Two I've found are from Things Get Weird. The first is the use and delivery of the line "bury me." Second is the line "if I pull out my fucking teeth, maybe I'd get some sleep", a call back to the line "I can't sleep at night, my broken teeth a reminder." The following song Dirt Roads features what is perhaps my favourite chorus the Tapes have ever written. What an ear worm! As soon as Phil begins the lines "and I wish we could talk about this..." I was hooked and just got so excited by this song. The addition of some superb harmonies from Pan just add to my excitement for the chorus. That's not to say that the rest of the song isn't a piece of brilliance. The lyrics do a wonderful job of painting a picture where you can just see the music video to the song in your mind. Dirt Road is about having regrets about not being able to be there for a friend and really wishing you could have been.
Up next is Birds, And Birds, And Animals, And Things. Phil takes lead vocals on the song as he leads us through the track. Again painting such a great picture throughout the song, it makes you wonder if the band have thought about potential music video for each song during the process of writing the album. The level of detail in the lyrics is incredible. During the song Pan's vocals become more and more into the fold and towards the end he gets a couple of solo lines. This adds so much to the song, freshening things up and grabbing your attention towards the song's completion. Forty, Forty Five feels like the big emotional ballad of Never Better. From the get go Phil's voice is at its raspy best with him seemingly straining more than ever which really adds more feeling to the song. Musically the song sees the Burnt Tapes holding things back to really allow Phil to shine to get his message across. There are builds and big crescendos but only when they're needed, there isn't anything happening for the sake of it here. There's a delightful moment in the song where a female vocalist, named Satin Bailey, comes in and adds this whole extra element to the song. It was quite the surprise to hear this and I really loved it.
The penultimate song on Never Better is the brilliantly titled Robert Cop. The band pick up the pace again as Pan steers us into one of the poppier songs on the album. Robert Cop is about living life as a recluse, never leaving your room, not talking to anyone but yourself and eventually wondering if this will be what people know you for and getting fed up of it. I love how the song takes you through the sadness of this and finishes with Pan sounding as if he wants to get better. Lyrically The Burnt Tapes aren't the most positive of bands so this was a refreshing change. The chorus is a thing of beauty, quickly finding a way into your head and your heart and is delivered with such a delicious melody that you won't be able to help but sing along. The final song on the album is the moving Lost In Transit. I bang on a lot about the importance of an album's last song needing to be epic, that's definitely the case here. This track is played at a slower, more methodical pace with a couple of short bass solos from Tone breaking things up and giving the song a moodier feel. The song is about being lonely and using drugs to help you block out the feeling but yearning to spend time with those that you care about. Yet again the lyrics do such an incredible job of creating imagery in your head that you feel the anguish from Phil even more. Such a powerful way to finish the album.
Like I said at the start of this review, The Burnt Tapes are a band that I love not just as musicians but as people so when I say that I was blown away by Never Better know that that is a big deal. I had such high expectations for this album and each and every one of them has been completely obliterated. What we have here are perfectly crafted punk rock songs about love, loss and regret that will have you singing yourself hoarse whilst breaking your heart. The way in which each song tells a story creates these perfect pictures in your mind – the level of detail and thought that has gone into each track is staggering. This is a very special album that I fully expect will launch the Tapes into the next phase in their musical journey and more and more people will come to the same conclusion as me – Phil (vocals/guitar), Pan (vocals/guitar), Tone (bass) and Jordan (drums), collectively known as The Burnt Tapes, are the best band in the UK.
Pre-order Never Better from Lockjaw Records here and Wiretap Records here.
Like The Burnt Tapes here: https://www.facebook.com/burnt.tapes/
This review was written by Colin Clark.