as previously mentioned, i was lucky enough to hear emerald classics two months early and as soon as i pressed play i knew it was special. somehow the birmingham band have managed to create an idyllic blend of modern indie-pop that still pays homage to their debut album and the psychedelic sound of their second release, mothers. the ten tracks - a perfect number for a full-length album if you ask me - all have their own unique backstory.
though the band hail from brummy, they've clearly taken inspiration from the rich musical history of my native manchester. world i share is a happy mondays-inspired track that could have been the official world cup song for england back in the 90s, capturing that sense of infectious optimism which swept across the nation, much like new order did with world in motion in 1991. interestingly enough, 0121 desire also evokes the sound of new order. musically this was my favourite track straight out of the gate, but a closer look at the lyrics further cements this as the band wrestle with conflicting feelings about their hometown.
the album is named after a pub called the emerald, which frontman austin williams describes as "a classic irish pub" with a jukebox in the corner, and "everyone knows each other by their first name". it's the epicentre of an album that sees the band reconcile their teenage desires for success with the reality of life in a suburban town, something i know all too well. my conflicted feelings about home are perfectly summed up by the line "you wouldn't wanna leave here / you wouldn't wanna stay". though i feel like it holds me back at times, i truly can't imagine being anywhere else.
this theme of home and family is explored further on never stop pinching myself. a dead ringer for oasis' 1998 track all around the world, it serves as a reality check of sorts. when the band took a break from touring in 2017, they struggled to balance part time jobs and making an album without the support from a major label, losing two of their original members in the process.
nevertheless, they're able to look back on their success in a much more measured way than their teenage selves; "i'm not there but i got out / i ain't rich but i left town" muses williams. they also reflect on how much the world has changed since they first made it big in 2012, and the line "our technology is more important / our feelings are digital" perfectly sums up how our lives are now lived online.
though it seems like an upbeat 80s-inspired bop at first glance, sail away, say goodbye contrasts a euphoric melody with lyrics about williams' grandma losing her memory as dementia takes hold. having lost my own grandma to the disease this year, it's refreshing to hear it being spoken about in such positive terms. "you see life much differently / and you see things people don't see" goes the second verse, proof that it's not all doom and gloom.
there's more of the same with top of the pops, an ode to the families they left behind when world tours came calling. it's obvious they still have more they want to accomplish though, as williams makes a pledge to his mother:"i
happy as larrie, the opening lines - "here you are, you've arrived / there's nothing here that you should fear now, you're alive" - bringing tears to my eyes as i realise that i have everything i need right here and running away to another city won't solve anything (been there, done that). this sentiment is echoed in the chorus, which reminds me that "you don't have to swim forever / cause everything is gonna be okay", while the bridge urges me to "put your arms around this house" and fully embrace the place i call home.
lead single to feel good is a trip down memory lane as williams recounts his teenage years, which much like mine, included many trips to the job centre. the spoken word verses remind me of the streets, a garage group whose songs fit but don't you know it and dry your eyes were major hits in the UK in 2004, with the latter reaching number one on the charts, while the backing vocals from the margate social singing choir give it an almost reverential feel.
lyrically it hits far too close to home, the chorus in particular - "it's the only reason that i do this / it's the only reason that i'm here" - serving as an ongoing reminder that it's not about the money and doing what makes me feel good will always be my number one priority.
this album has allowed me to see home in a completely new way and given me a new-found appreciation for it all over again,as i continue to grapple with the idea of leaving for a job in london, should such an opportunity arise. coupled with my new-found positivity, it reassures me that there's nothing wrong with continuing to pursue what i really want.
the optimism of swim deep's early releases has been given a much needed reality check that fame and success don't protect you from life's ups and downs, but a little dreaming never hurt anyone.