Sleeping with fireflies

by Suw on May 19, 2005

Sometimes it seems impossible to convey an emotional reaction to something without falling into cliché. I froze. My heart skipped a beat. I caught my breath. I nearly dropped a full pint of water in my electrical leads box.

let's go fishing for a dream
let's find some place new
somewhere we can be ourselves
some of the time

The truth is, I did all of those things when I first heard the opening bars of Fishing for a Dream, Turin Brakes' first single off their new album, JackinaBox. I really did. I thought it was Elliott Smith, just for a second, a few heart-stopping seconds, I thought the radio was playing a song of Elliott's that I did not know. Elliott used to play the most amazingly beautiful, delicate guitar and I would spend hours and hours lying on my sofa back when I lived in Reading, headphones on, lights off, listening to his wonderful melodies and letting them seep into every pore, every cell.
The first few bars of Fishing for a Dream seem to me to be clearly influenced by Elliott: beautiful, but shot through with fragility as if the very guitar strings themselves were made of silver so fine it might break at any moment.

lose your heart
I'll lose my mind
we'll make quite a pair
dazzling all the time

When Olly Knights' voice kicks in, all I can do is close my eyes and float away, let him sweep me off into an LA sunset.

celebrity parties
the red carpet mile
nothing is too good there
for my girl
all of this world
is gonna see you shine

But this place is the city of Lost Angels, where we don't really belong – never could belong – and soon enough Gale Paridjanian's guitar again takes us away from there to somewhere closer to home, somewhere we can be ourselves.

let's do loneliness in style
let's put on Moonlight Mile
and feel those radio waves flow
and don't say you won't

Fishing for a Dream is one of those songs that makes me stop whatever I am doing and just listen. Doesn't matter how important what I'm doing is. How interesting. Work. Play. Breathing. I just have to stop and soak it up. I have to let it get under my skin and take me over. Four and a half minutes of bliss, of beauty, of wonder.
Olly's voice has always been beautiful, it's always made me shiver and tingle, but it has really matured and refined over the last few years. Voices do that, I guess. They grow up, or maybe Olly just grew into it. I don't know. But a voice like this is a delight, and I can't get enough of it. Certainly I couldn't cope just waiting all day for someone to playlist Fishing for a Dream because as soon as the song is over I want it to begin anew.
I have to have the album, I can't wait for the physical thing, although it will be the one musical purchase I make sure I make as soon as I am given the opportunity – I love the idea of putting money in Olly's and Gale's pockets. I love the idea that I chipped in for that new guitar or that cup of coffee. But in the meantime, I give in to the dark side and download JackinaBox, and my god, I am not disappointed.
If Fishing for a Dream is the aural equivalent of the sweetest daydream, Over and Over, the song that succeeds it on JackinaBox, is like having your throat kissed and your earlobes nibbled by whomever you were daydreaming of.

life isn't always easy
this we know, my friend
I thought you knew where to go
but you were following me

so let's get lost in space
I feel displaced
I'm stuck in the rat race
it's a lovely day
to lose your way
and get stuck in the loop

over and over again
you can never make it stop
over and over again
you can never make it stop

Oh, Olly, I don't want to make it stop. I just want to play it over and over again, on single song repeat forever. Driving drums, reminiscent of Madness of all things, give this song a heat that is unbearably sensuous. Now, if you ever read my review of Muse's Absolution, you'll know first that I am prone to overblown reviews like this, but also that I like songs that make me react physically, viscerally, sensually. You'll also know that my taste in music means that much of the stuff that's suppose to be sensual passes me by – Barry White? Nah, thanks. But Garbage, or Muse, or The Bluetones, oh my, now you're talking. Certain songs are just too much for this poor single girl to take. Now we can add Turin Brakes' Over and Over to that list.
The rest of JackinaBox is just as gorgeous. A long, hot August evening of an album, it sounds like it was recorded in the depths of summer out on Highway 1, somewhere out by Big Sur, not in a little studio in Brixton. Starting again at the beginning, the track listing is:
1. They Can't Buy The Sunshine
2. Red Moon
3. Forever
4. Asleep With The Fireflies
5. Fishing For A Dream
6. Road To Nowhere
7. Over And Over
8. Last Clown
9. Above The Clouds
10. Building Wraps Round Me
11. JackInABox
12. Come And Go
They Can't Buy The Sunshine is a lovely little opener that opens like a closer:

all in all it's been a blast, but
fame and fortune never last, so
we'll take refuge in the sound
they burned our churches to the ground

It's a gentle song, understated and mellow, it prepares you for the rest of the album. It's like a sorbet, clearing your aural palate for the delights to come, although it's more gin and tonic than lemon or orange.
The song that They Can't Buy The Sunshine is setting you up for, Red Moon, is beyond fabulous.

sometimes, just letting go is easier
dead friends can't come back
they're gone and life goes on
if you try
you'll be alright
if you try
you'll be alright

It starts off gentle, mournful, but then it kicks right in.

I'm hanging around with you
catching the starlight
underneath the red moon
leaving the city tonight
finding our freedom
underneath the red moon

This is a song with the Mojave in its veins, horizon stretching on forever, the stars bright and close, close enough to reach out and touch. The harvest moon hangs fat and heavy in the sky as you sit on the bonnet of your car, drinking from the bottle and wondering what the fuck comes next. All you can do is pour a libation into the desert to those who've gone before their time and promise to try.
Forever reminds me a lot more of earlier Turin Brakes, it feels akin to The Optimist LP, and it's everything we've come to expect from Olly and Gale – it doesn't show off, it just does its stuff, confident yet modest. Asleep with the Fireflies is much perkier, with a nippy little chorus that you can't help but bop along to. Not quite as delightfully sensuous as Over and Over, it has its moments, and they're gorgeous moments too. Any song that has the lyric 'no use flapping around like a headless chicken' gets my vote.
Road To Nowhere is a narrative, telling of the pain of a father lost and a nine year old son unable to cope.

the dad, he was fifty
the kid was nine years old
he stood there like a miracle
with the kid's heart in his hold
I think I might be dying
at least that's what I'm told
inside, the kid is crying
for the dream that's just been sold

I'm only nine
I'm already feeling the strain
seems everyone's dying
or curling up in pain
well it's just a loser's game, Dad
it's just a loser's game

It is, by far, the saddest song on the album, perfect for Olly's haunting, melancholy tones.
There's not a duff track on the whole album, but it's hard to write about all of them because even the least notable stands head and shoulders above most of the dreck that gets released these days. Turin Brakes are masters of understatement, going for subtlety and quality instead of cheap thrills. Last Clown is no exception, it's a sort of smoocher of a song, that puts its arms around your waist and sways to the rhythm, head on your shoulder.
Buildings Wrap Around Me, like Fishing for a Dream, starts off with a picked guitar intro which develops into more intricate lines. It's another beautiful song which envelopes you with layers of sound and emotion and lets you drift away, escape. So much of this album feels like an escape, I just can't get my head round the idea that it was recorded in London and not on the Pacific coast of America.
Above The Clouds. The last time I flew to America, I remember being fascinated by the rainbow-like shadow of the plan on the clouds below – like a halo instead of the darkness you might expect. I just kept staring at it. I kept thinking that above the clouds it's always sunny. I knew I'd miss crw in San Francisco by just a matter of days, but I didn't know that my plans to see him again would never come to pass. I hadn't heard this song then, but it seems to retroactively fit.

up above the clouds
it is always a blue sky
some will try to trick
but you just look them in the eyes
what will they do
when the money runs dry?
where will they go
when the jetplanes can't fly?

when all is said and done
I will love you
when all is said and done
I'll still love you

How perfect, then that the next track, JackinaBox, is as close to dancing material as I think Turin Brakes have ever come, and how perfect the lyric:

oh, no! my world is on fire
someone get some water cos I think I'm gonna burn
oh, no! my world is on fire
someone get some water cos I think I'm gonna burn
hey, Joe! I'm tasting all your flavours
ain't no piece of cake
but life ain't dishing nothing I can't take

this is a nice mess
I don't feel so lonely
this is a nice mess
I don't feel so lonely

First the loss, then the recovery. I'm strong enough. I can deal with it. Life ain't dishing nothing I can't take.
Finally, Come and Go. Oh my god. Put this one on the list too.

Open up my heart
you opened up my heart
and let some sunlight down the avenue
I'm going to take my time today
I'm going to take what's mine today

cos you come
and you go
cos you come
and you go

Aw, I just love all the swirling synths at the end of this. Gorgeous. And, of course, the last track has the requisite hidden treat. They always do it. It's like tradition. Too sweet.
Never has an album come at some a perfect time, with such perfect songs and such perfect lyrics. I can't help but fall in love with it. I can't imagine life with out it. In fact, during the course of writing this post, I've bought it already, on pre-order from HMV.
Save yourself the agony of not having this in your collection. Go pre-order it now.

Anonymous May 21, 2005 at 3:33 pm

oh. my. god
i was SO in love with the Optimist LP, and when they released their second i was a bit disappointed.
but a return to their old form would be beyond heavenly.. i am ordering jackinabox right now. and thanks for an enchanting review!

Anonymous May 23, 2005 at 12:42 pm

And I thought I was the only one who could rattle on about how great the Brakes are for so long! Glad to know I'm not the only TB fanatic out there! Can't wait to hear that new album.
A random Blog-reader and TB fan.

Anonymous May 24, 2005 at 5:30 pm

yeah, liked the first album a lot but the second was very very disappointing. hopefully the new one is considerably better.

Anonymous May 24, 2005 at 9:05 pm

Now I have to say, I adored Ether Song, so I can't really say that I view Jackinabox as a return to form. More an extension of already good form.
If you hated Ether Song, you may wish to bear this in mind.

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