“Complete Surrender” – Slow Club

4 stars (out of 5)

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Complete SurrenderPreviously forlorn and just on the doable side of twee, Sheffield girl-boy duo Slow Club decided they wanted a change. Their two previous albums, the second a great improvement on the first, were a mix of shoe-gaze and rattling, nurturing indie-folk; it was sweet but had a dark and more interesting undercurrent. “Complete Surrender” doesn’t rattle and isn’t folk music but the dark tendencies and songwriting style have, in part, remained. Colin Elliot, who has worked with Jarvis Cocker, Kylie Minogue on her Abbey Road album and, most notably, Richard Hawley, has been enlisted to produce and in doing so has in part become what feels like a third member, such is his presumed impact. Retro, northern soul and Motown girl-group stompers dominate in what is now a fully formed and lushly intricate backdrop that accompanies Charles Watson and, in frequently spectacular fashion, Rebecca Taylor’s tales of heartbreak and determined, if not always successful, reinvention.

Slow Club’s emphasis has always been on their centre-stage vocals and their self-written durable melodies so, although the sonic energy here has been intensified, and, on tracks like the endlessly ascending title track, is pitched to equal a song’s mood, it’s always the songs themselves that shine through. There is not a case for style over substance here and this is before taking into account the duo’s vocals; Watson’s doleful white-boy falsetto, pitched high and yearning, like a northern Ben Gibbard, and Taylor who sings with tremendous power and a nuanced, technical ability to express a catalogue of emotions without ever over-egging. Unlike her male partner who is certainly competent but not awe-inspiring, Taylor sounds closer to firmly established female singers who have earned iconic status. Maybe closer to Sandie Shaw, on songs like the frail but fighting “Dependable People and Things that I’m Sure Of”, a slow solo performance, she astounds with a plaintive but rousing vocal documenting the fresh pain of a terminal relationship.

‘But I can run further than I could before
And I can laugh louder, I can dance ’til I’m sore
Then in the morning, I can do it again
I just have to keep moving, don’t ever stop moving

And all of this envy and all of this fear
Will just be a memory of this shitty year

The pair share vocal duties throughout the album’s eleven tracks with songs dedicated to either one or the other but on occasion their voices merge in the most surprising way considering how different they are. On “Tears Of Joy”, Taylor’s wistful voice is actually underscored by Watson’s throughout although at first this isn’t obvious, clearly initially taking the lead his vocal gradually morphs into the ecstatic whoops of his partner’s -- the joy of the title expressed. On “Everything is New”, with its strings, ahhh-ahhh serenades, spirited chorus and rock guitars their vocals -- again led by Watson -- collide and separate again, beautifully. “The Queen’s Nose”, another glorious ballad delivered solely by Taylor, and an obvious high point, is so exquisite that it is hard not to begin wishing that the power-couple had weighed out their responsibilities differently when it comes to vocal duties. Songs like the playful and more electronic “The Pieces” don’t stand up to the weightier performances here many of which do belong to Rebecca Taylor, but it is also the various shades of their vocals playing together that make tracks such as “Wanderer Wandering” such a multi- layered, rich but still airy pleasure.

“Complete Surrender” has elevated the duo to a position where they will be at the very least heard in the same context as some of pop’s most soulful big hitters; Jessie Ware, Sam Smith and even Adele are their contemporaries now. Whether they experience the same level of commercial success is another issue of course and realistically, extremely unlikely -- only a tiny percentage will after all.  But to make a record like this and to take strides that enables your sound to be both mainstream but wholly grounded in a lyrical sensibility that is essentially British in its self-deprecation and rejection of sentimentality is admirable and is what gives Slow Club their edge. “Complete Surrender” is an album that eventually becomes a part of you and as much as it is nurturing, moving and empathic; it also thrills with its new ambitions and ends up sounding unlike anything else experienced over the last eighteen months.