Everything Everything - Man Alive
Record Label: Geffen Records
Release Date: August 27, 2010
Everything Everything’s début album Man Alive is a very bold offering to the UK music scene. On reflection, none of it is particularly new. However the band cherry-pick the good bits from different styles of music we know, cram them into a song, and offer up something we’ve never heard of. This début’s uniqueness is probably what has earned it its accolades, which include a hugely coveted Mercury Prize nomination.
Indeed, it is difficult to tie a single genre of music to this band. Their sound is frequently referred to as indie. But that word has become so vague now, it’s almost misleading because there certainly isn’t an indie band out there that sounds like Everything Everything. Their sound is alternative pop, but they venture into rock and hip hop with this album - they have not restricted themselves at all! The band clearly like their R&B: a nice surprise was a groovy feel to some of the lively numbers. The band’s bassist really makes his mark on songs like “Schoolin’” and “Final Form”. The drummer also deserves a mention for his part in those two songs, the Tudor-inspired “Two for Nero”, and generally all through the album for very mature rhythm selection in each song. That is difficult to achieve with such an ambitious variety of songs.
It is also difficult to pick out stand-out tracks on this album. It is clear that the band have been very picky in their song selection for this record, because each song has an identity. None of the 11 tracks are fillers or half-hearted efforts. Perhaps “Photoshop Handsome” is the most memorable: the lead vocalist, Jonathan Higgs, squeals “Airbrush! What have you done with my father?” in a piercing falsetto over jaunty synths. Impossibly and very cleverly, a catchy four-to-the-floor beat is played on snare drums throughout the song, giving the track a memorable franticness and energy.
The album’s constant use of harmonies is remarkably creative. Delicate cherub-like harmonies in “Tin (the Manhole)” nestled amongst the intimate descriptions of a fox’s vicissitudes on a busy road, help to create this powerful feeling of being in a religious ceremony. It is as tragic as a funeral, and every sung sentence is taken in. Those harmonies contrast with the shrieked barbershop-like harmonies of “Schoolin’”, but it works each time. In some tracks the band seems to change direction halfway through. When Everything Everything change the gears in belters like “Weights” and “Schoolin’”, it feels as though the band get bored during the song, and decide to play something else. This unpredictability of Man Alive can be confusing at times, certainly difficult to grasp at first listen. I am reminded of Radiohead albums; they mastered this art of misleading you and then going somewhere else. In this album, the band attempt to be as ambitious, and perhaps, more often than not, they succeed.
I may have hinted earlier at the brilliance of Everything Everything’s lyrics, but this aspect of Man Alive really deserves a paragraph in itself. Higgs covers an assortment of topics (often in a single song!) from the Suffragette movement to abortion and to Princess Diana. At times the lyrics are ridiculous: “chest pumped elegantly elephantine, southern hemisphere by Calvin Klein” comes to mind for example. But it is so clear that there is great meaning in every song; in the imagery of “Tin (the Manhole)” and “Weights”, in the cynicism of tracks like “Photoshop Handsome” and “NASA is on Our Side”. The cryptic nature of the lyrics suggests that even the writer is not interested in saying specific messages. The tracks on this record allow for hours of pondering and exploration for those who just want to delve into something meaningful.
Man Alive is one of those records you'll definitely have an opinion about, and perhaps that's what Everything Everything should be proud of the most with this album. It is almost impossible to be indifferent about it. You either get where they’re coming from - you get excited about the prospect of more from such an innovative band. Or, you wish Man Alive’s catchy riffs will have finally left your mind by the time you wake up for work tomorrow morning. I hope, like me, you are the former and will be humming happily on the commute to work for some time yet.