Out of the many recent reviews I have had the privilege of writing Giles Matthews’ latest Hardball album has somehow been the most difficult. I have had many listens from track one right through to track fourteen and I have even tried the shuffle option. There are a few reasons for my struggle and I will attempt to explain these in a moment.
Giles is from Crickhowell and raised in Blaenavon, a fellow South Walian like myself. I am very surprised I hadn’t heard his name or experienced some of his music until now. In the 90’s Giles was part of a song-writing duo called Desire who played gigs in different venues around the South Wales valleys and Cardiff. Following this Giles released a solo album called ‘Gambler’ in 2003, another called ‘Egolibido’ in 2005 and is constantly on the lookout for band members to continue touring around the country.
The first dilemma I encountered with my review is trying to categorise Giles’ sound for his third album release. I have decided to do this by transporting myself back to the 90’s Britpop era. The songs on this album remind me of music from the likes of Menswear, Suede and Giles’ vocals are definitely reminiscent of Bobbie Gillespie from Primal Scream. I would say there are definitely indie, rock and pop elements running throughout.
The next predicament is that the album seems to lack variety. I’m not sure if this is due to Giles’ vocal not having much diversity or the amount of guitars that tend to take predominance in a lot of the songs.
The title track is a good bouncy start for the album but then it also includes another slight recurring annoyance found in other songs, that being the overly repetitive lyrics such as “we’re playing hardball”. A lot of the songs catch my attention in parts but then lose me in others. When Giles sings “love’s a loaded gun” I like this part every time it is sung but then the rest of the track lacks a spark. I am aware that Giles has got a unique and distinct vocal but sadly it comes across as a bit too lethargic and a bit too often.
I like the use of the keyboard and organ type sounds in ‘Pretty Rich Child’. These parts strangely remind me of the old 45rpm’s I used to own of Dave & Ansell Collins on the ‘Double Barrel’ and ‘Monkey Spanner’ songs of the early 70’s! There’s a welcome slower pace to ‘Gypsy Wild’ which is a pleasant enough song but will not set the World on fire. I like the guitar solo and the drum beats but I am unsure with Giles’ slightly weak vocal. This also shows up again on ‘Stay With Me’ where I think it’s a case that Giles’ vocal doesn’t fit nicely with the songs.
‘Born to Shine’ returns to the overly repetitive use of words in this instance “shine shine shine”. When ‘Spellbound’ rocks into life with its choruses then it seems we could be on to a winner. There’s more fine guitar solo work but yet again the slower parts of the song lose my attention.
Finally, we get to two tracks which are my standouts on the album. ‘Devil at the Crossroads’ is an atmospheric and moody song. I think the other thing that stands out is a very good catchy melodic rhythm throughout. It reminds me of something Brandon Flowers and the Killers would release. The lyrics are really good and sung well which keep my attention from start to finish.
Next it is back to a faster pace with ‘Modern Girls’ which could easily be on a Primal Scream album and not too dissimilar to their song ‘Rocks’. It has a great drum and guitar beat which definitely got my head nodding and feet tapping.
There are sadly not too many more high points to the album until you get to the final song ‘Secrets and Lies’. This is undoubtedly Giles’ best vocal out of the slower paced songs. There is another nice melody and electric guitar solo which complements the vocal nicely by intermittently appearing in just the right parts.
In conclusion this is sadly a very disjointed album that often loses my attention not just from one song to the next but from one part of a song to another. Despite this I enjoy Giles’ unique nasal vocal style in parts but the main component that keeps the album together is the solid musicianship especially that of the drumming and guitar solos. There are definite signs here that if the right song is written and chosen then Giles could well be on to a winning formula.
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