Lightning Seeds – Four Winds (Universal)
It’s not often I’d slip into a first-person perspective, but this one’s kind-of important. The first record I ever bought for myself, armed with accrued pocket money and the influence of an older brother’s desire for making exhaustive mixtapes, was Sense by Ian Broudie’s Lightning Seeds. As a work, it rides a dicey wave of sunshine-pop continually enhanced by melancholy, with Broudie’s soft scouse burr making this first conscious purchase of mine one that resulted in countless visits to the “twee” section of independent record shops in later life. I knew how to rock, too, but I knew that I could deal with all that later. For now, Ian Broudie lived in my Venturer mini hi-fi, backlit display beaming across my bedroom at night.
It seemed to me that Broudie’s songs were one of purest examples of balancing heartbreak in lyric with pointed optimism in music. A potent combination that had been done before, but one that Broudie tackled with the Gods of Merseybeat and Motown smiling down on him. When things started to tail off for Broudie, creatively if not monetarily, the Lightning Seeds became something of a Beautiful South prospect – a band you’d seriously have to justify harbouring affections for unless you were someone’s dad. With Four Winds (which is in serious danger of being dubbed Broudie’s long-awaited comeback), the goalposts have been bent slightly. It’s not a classic pop record, but it is an excellent Lightning Seeds record. If that makes sense.
It has clearly been very difficult to shoehorn Broudie’s feelings into these songs (in recent years he has lost several members of his family, including both parents, and his marriage ended) but, because of that, they positively bleed and cry. The opening title track asserts the whole album as one that is emotionally wrangled into place, with its reverberating piano sonority and exploratory bass clarinet opening. The lyrics are simplistic but full-bodied and red-blooded, speaking of an almost Halcyonic relationship with his brother who “got those blues” and committed suicide. Broudie’s voice, previously of an uncomplicated sweetness and a conversational ease, has now changed into something more befitting his 50 years – a light rasp graces the edges of certain lines on Things Just Happened, lending them poignancy and the impression of serious time and experience having passed since the days of Jollification.
Just like on previous records, there’s a constant mask of buoyant musical gesture shielding the true, depressive nature of many of these songs. The winsome Pacemakerisms of All I Do is all Brian Wilson guitars and clanging glockenspiels, but Broudie can’t bring himself to contemplate new love – “I think I’ve had enough of love/I know it’s had enough of me”. Indeed, the latter stages of the album are particularly cheerful in tone and timbre and taking the form of relentlessly typical pop structures. You might even call them a little boring, but at least they are excellently produced and executed. This does not dull the occasional moments when Broudie’s words catch the listener off-guard – something that he’s made a career of.
On Sense, when it was humming across the dark bedroom, one line stood out from Tingle Tangle – “holding back the tears can make you cry”. It was furthered by the declaration that “only time can melt the ice cream cloud”. Forgiving the silly ice cream bit, there’s not a better way to describe the conflicts in Four Winds. Broudie tries not to let depression get him down, will not let trivial things like emotion stand in the way of fine pop. This leads to identikit pop tunes with affecting lyrics – a nice enough pie, but only on the tracks when the emotion is spelled out amongst beautiful backing does the record reach its peaks. Indeed, time has melted Broudie’s ability to control his emotion with slicker pop than the words might suggest, and it’s to our benefit. When the thaw is complete, we might finally see him in his purest light.