Friday, September 4, 2009

The World and My Wife

At Indietracks this summer it really seemed as if the world and his wife had suddenly become Cats On Fire fans. I'm certain there were more than a hundred people dancing fervently up front, something that is highly unusual with an unpretentious, slightly camp group like Cats On Fire. If possible, they have become even tighter and more professional than last year, and new songs like "Tears On Your Cup" lets them rock out in their own anti-rock way. The summer has already given me two opportunities to see them and tonight they are playing in Malmö for the first time since the We & You festival in 2004. That was the first time I ever saw or heard them, which makes it an even more pressing cause for celebration.

Also, it's high time that I wrote more extensively about their new and second album Our Temperance Movement which has grown on me to become my favourite release of theirs since it came out on Matinée Recordings earlier this year. The thing that defines the new record for me is both the wider variation in instrumentation and the improved coherency compared to The Province Complains. When I saw them at Indietracks Ville was also playing a Telecaster with intermittent bursts of chorus, which gave them a fresh sound that I think suited them well. I later found out the guitar was on loan from Basil Butcher Boy! At Cosy Den they reverted into their familiar Swedish mode and played mainly old material, partly due to the 5-year anniversary of course, since they were one of the bands that played Cosy Den in 2004, when it still took place in arranger Mattias' flat in Gothenburg.

There's something about the record that keeps drawing my thoughts towards The Go-Betweens. Of course Mattias has always had a Forsterian air about him, but maybe it's because they've dared to take a softer approach to many of the songs this time, with the guitars mixed further back and plenty of picked acoustics, baring the songwriting to the bone. They used to be best at the faster, electric numbers but here it is the midtempo songs like "The Steady Pace" that stand out. The scornful "Letters From a Voyage to Sweden", about trips on the seedy ferry connecting Stockholm and Åbo or Helsinki, is as succinct as "Draining the Pool For You" and where else today will you hear someone sing that "too much adultery just poisons your mind"? They even risk slowing the album down to a halt with "Never Sell the House" that seems to be addressed to Mattias' mother, but the very quiet organ in the background keeps everything afloat. There are plenty of references to ships, water and other more intoxicating liquids. And of course the cover is of a ship in a bottle - a symbol for the paradoxical, but also the traditional. A riddle that leaves us guessing at what their temperance movement really is. Perhaps 'our' means belonging to all of us. Several of the songs are about being a better person, or wishing others to be. The lyrics come through much more clearly on this album as well, and the audience at Indietracks was not only dancing but singing along. If there are any standout tracks, it must be "Tears In Your Cup", built on a mock rock'n'roll guitar line and telling the story of someone listening to The Yardbirds while enjoying a glass of wine. It contains my favourite line "so if I want to hear you talk I see you when you're under your favourite spell". Also "The Borders of This Land" with its Deebank-style guitar lines that accompany the vocal throughout, is a firm favourite. Our Temperance Movement is not a happy album, it doesn't take any shortcuts to your heart, but it's daring and most if the time its aim is true. Without boasting, Cats On Fire can say that they have recorded one of the best albums of the decade.

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