Album Review: ‘Broken Glances’ by The Pigeon Detectives

Pigeon Detectives HI RES COLOUR.jpg

(Photo from Sonic PR)

After their longest gap between albums, The Pigeon Detectives have returned with their fifth LP, their first since 2013’s ‘We Met at Sea’, and quite easily their most melancholy release to date.

To jog your memory, The Pigeon Detectives are an Indie band hailing from Leeds, who broke through in 2007 with the Platinum Certified ‘Wait for Me’. Theirs was a sound typical of the mid 2000’s strain of British Indie rock that saw bands like The Libertines, The Cribs, and the Arctic Monkeys emerge as the UK’s answer to The Strokes.

Basically, they played Inbetweeners music – although funnily enough I can’t recall ever hearing them on the show – by which I mean hormonal, lager soaked, jumpy guitar music with danceable hooks and eminently ‘shout along’ choruses. It’s a sound the band have stuck ardently to through their discography so far, to the point where they started to seem almost novel, refusing to mature, evolve, or even move with current trends.

Perhaps they became aware of this, as ‘Broken Glances’ is something of a departure from the bands well-worn sound, coming in with a more atmospheric, spacious musical aesthetic, and Matthew Bowman’s most sombre, vulnerable vocal performance to date. They’re clearly aiming for a more mature sound, one that moves on from the playful energy that has permeated their last few records, although they still haven’t quite broken out of the mold they’ve set themselves.

Opening track ‘Wolves’ appears to set a new precedent for the band with its deeply melodic bassline, spacey guitars, and post rock structure that sees the song build up to a gradual climax in a way the band have rarely attempted before. Some of these ideas are carried through the album, especially on tracks such as ‘Munro’ and ‘Falling in Love’ which see The Pigeon Detectives fully embrace this more introspective sound, leading to some of longest cuts out of their entire back catalogue.

While these moments of departure are certainly refreshing, it ends up being – and I feel kinda bad for saying this – the moments where The Pigeon Detectives stick more rigidly to their tried and tested formula that stand out as the album highlights. After four albums spent hoping for a change, I feel mildly hypocritical saying this, and I do sincerely appreciate the efforts to deviate from the norm.

Really, the biggest reason for the shortcomings here is that this is The Pigeon Detectives. They’re a snack band – enjoyable in small doses but not particularly challenging. Seeing the band live is what really affirms their appeal, and that is that their songs serve as shots of musical adrenaline, the soundtrack to a night on the town. They don’t have the musical gravitas necessary to pull off these long, sprawling tracks, meaning songs that should sound epic and expansive come off as a bit thin and inert. Bowman’s northern yelp is also ill equipped for these kind of songs, and on tracks like ‘Falling in Love’ actually comes off as a bit simpering.

Elements of this new approach permeate the record, leading to the bands least immediate album to date. Songs that would otherwise seem quite typical of the band are affected with this self-inflicted malaise, and end up sounding quite tiresome, particularly during the verses.  It’s an unfortunate thing that happens to a lot of bands, where in maturity and growth is believed to come at the expense of what made them great in the first place, which in this case is the bands carefree, affable energy. There’s no reason this had to be lost in the bands attempts to evolve.

The highlights of the record are easily the tracks on which some of this buzz is still evident, such as lead single ‘Lose Control’, as well as ‘Sounding the Alarm’ and ‘Stay with Me’. These tracks hint at a far more engaging musical direction that the band would do well to pursue in the future, with strong grooves, jagged riffs, and a tight, synthetic, occasionally minimalist sound. These are the tracks that both stand out from previous outings, while still being eminently danceable – I can envision crowds going nuts for these at the band’s live shows.

Ultimately what we’re left with is a slightly misguided record that falls under the weight of its own ambition. What should be a coming-of-age moment for the band ends up sounding more like they’ve just become old and tired. It’s far from a terrible album – for the most part these tracks do benefit from repeat listens, and several of them are straight up captivating. Should The Pigeon Detectives continue in that direction – perhaps even jumping on the ever popular 80’s throwback trend – they could release a record worth getting excited about, but for now, ‘Broken Glances’ doesn’t do enough different, and the changes it does make fail to impress.

Rating: 3/5

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