Feeder’s brand of romper-room rock sold like burgers at a football match. This much we know. It fattened its members’ bank accounts to such an extent that its leader Grant Nicholas decamped, grew his hair and bought himself much-needed headspace. He won his freedom, but at a price.
Now at the age of 47, grizzled and wiser but sadder (following the suicide of Feeder drummer Jon Lee, no doubt) Nicholas has morphed into a solid writer of pop songs in the classic mould. A calamity like suicide could not have failed to have had a corrosive effect on his world view, so now, with Feeder put on hiatus, Nicholas has begun to soul search, to plumb the depths of a life at its midway point (if he’s lucky), to prepare himself for the inevitable slide into old age and irrelevance. As do all men of his age.
So with his new six-song EP, Black Clouds (there’s a name to sum up his lonesome musings), Nicholas comes across as reflective, mooching around the studio, putting together songs not without care and with a loose, demo feel, and still finding his feet after the euphoric 1990s. The songs sound home-recorded and coated with a bourgeois, journeyman blues.
But the EP manages to raise a cheer despite overtones of world-weariness. He hits a firm stride with the melodic ‘Black Clouds’, which is well-crafted no-nonsense pop of a classic construct, a Hammond organ comprising the backbone, but with ‘Better Days To Come’ you get something that sounds as if it was recorded in his bedroom and, as a result, possesses little direction. ‘Reminisce’ is the sort of generic folk pop song you can hear plucked with adolescent exuberance in most sixth form common rooms, but the drum kit brush work is pleasant enough. ‘Everyday Society’ has the momentum of an early Franz Ferdinand song while the concept of ‘Joan Of Arc’ gets lost in a cluttered production. The ultimate track, ‘After The Fall’, is again an acoustic piece with lyrics such as, “It won’t get better than this/We’re staring at rainbows after the fall”. It’s music for the tired, the overwrought and the space-out whose bedroom walls have been carefully rendered in soothing shades of pastel.
Nicholas’s sound has evolved from the thrash of Smashing Pumpkins to a misty-eyed capo-on-the-third-fret narcissism that has seen him limp off into the swampy pastures of singer-songwriterland. His voice must grow deeper and more wounded if he’s to make his mark more finite. Is this a return to the Seventies when a slew of records were made by musicians who liked putting tunes together but who had very little to say? Only time will tell, and as Nicholas said in a past interview that he’d like to be able to play records such as this one live without “making too much of a fool of myself”; he’d do well to remember that that will become increasingly difficult as the passage of time takes its effect on his creative instincts.
Black Clouds is released on 6th April via Popping Candy.