In these times of endless uncertainty, upheaval, and constant change, you need something you can rely on – and it certainly isn’t the government, unless you’re looking for something you can rely on to lie, let you down, and make an epic hash of everything while lining the pockets of their mates. So, thank goodness for Theatre Royal, who are delivering their fifth album in the shape of ‘Portraits’.
The accompanying text suggests that ‘musically there are echoes of The Jam covering The Who, The Clash’s potent urgency marrying the Kinks’ wistful melodicism and a Beatles/Bowie hybrid in tender ballad “Splinter”. Whilst lyrically classic kitchensink drama lends a well-appointed nib to the themes of love, death, hope, failure and redemption. All very British for sure, but in this instance read honest’.
Lead single ‘A Marvellous Death’ raises the curtain on a baker’s dozen songs that balance jingle with drive with a rabble-rousing energy and a blast of defiance. Against the backdrop of the last 6 months, a celebration of life and a rousing call to live life to the max without any kind of political connotations is refreshing to say the least.
‘Callow’ sustains the energy, and calls to mind more the rallying cry of The Alarm’s ’68 Guns’ with the choppy guitars and crisp punk of The Skids, before ‘Kasher’ takes an overtly narrative lyrical approach. And it’s in these pen-portraits that the album’s focus comes to the fore as we see characters, ordinary and not so, populate the songs and imbue with them the vibrancy of real life.
Slowing the pace and taking a much sparser approach, ‘Upside Down’ leans on Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ to strong and quite moving effect. Nearer the end, ‘My Dear’ has a swaggering, staggering folk swing to it that’s got festival favourite potential if we ever get festival again.
Meanwhile, ‘Portraits’ gives us something life-affirming, and something solid, and real, and above all, human to fill a gap in these times of distance, dislocation and an overall lack.