The Murder Capital - When I Have Fears artwork excerpt

BLIND TASTE TEST: The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears

It’s the return of everyone’s favourite feature. This week, Fran Slater gives 2019 favourite When I Have Fears by The Murder Capital to Tom Burrows who somehow hasn’t heard it yet…

So Tom,

When I Have Fears. What an album. We featured it on the podcast back in 2019 so technically you should know it already – and to think you call yourself a Picky Bastard!

Will you love it? I don’t know. I have hope based on our shared love of post punk bands from both the Joy Division and Interpol eras, but I also know that our preferences for the bands that have appeared over the last few years can be quite different.

The Murder Capital are melodramatic at times, and that could be your sticking point. But the intensity of songs like ‘On Twisted Ground’, ‘Love, Love, Love’, and the two ‘Slowdance’ tracks definitely justifies the melodrama.

And on songs such as ‘Green & Blue’ and ‘Don’t Cling To Life’ they stand above their contemporaries and mark themselves as one of the most exciting bands on offer right now.

My love for this album grew tenfold once I saw them live, so it’ll be interesting to see where you land after a first listen. Even if you don’t like it, though, at least you can claim to be a proper Picky Bastard again.

Well Fran, you’ve rumbled me. My tendency to get dearly attached to the records I like can result in an unholy resistance to new music, which isn’t great for a so-called music writer. Repeatedly starting that process of emotional investment feels like hard work sometimes. And there are so many recommendations. It feels like five new ‘decent’ albums come out EVERY WEEK. At risk of sounding like a Nick Parker, sometimes I can’t be arsed!

That’s not to say I don’t trust the recommendations of you or my fellow PBs, of course. You’ve been raving about The Murder Capital for a while. As always, I’m intrigued, but I’ll admit my hopes are not high. My teenage years coincided with the post-punk revival of the ‘00s, and I loved a lot of those bands. But at 17 I discovered Joy Division – and I began to see where the accusations of derivativeness sprang from. Post-punk is easy to copy, but much harder to do well. And the name of this band – good god, it’s terrible. It’s the kind of meaningless moniker that should have been vetoed long before they signed a record contract.

But open mind and all that. Here we go…

‘For Everything’ starts with an actually quite lovely build of atmosphere before the motorik rhythm kicks in. And there’s something about the colour and distinction of the Irish accent on music like this which sounds refreshing. I’m not sure about the validity of praising The Murder Capital for their place of origin, but I think I just did. These lyrics sound Very Serious – it’s always hard to offer much lyrical analysis on the first listen but this track sounds suitably grand and the musical detail is promising.

As its title suggests, ‘More Is Less’ is a song that rails against the perils of excess. It’s a clear message, but musically it’s less interesting than the opener. It’s a generic pounder that screams ‘lead single’. Though I can imagine this getting the crowd going in a live setting, it feels like standard post-punk fare and it doesn’t enthrall me.

Next tune ‘Green & Blue’ is six minutes long, so I’m expecting a Big Statement. It begins with a propelling drum rhythm which sounds almost exactly like the percussion on, yep, Joy Division’s ‘Dead Souls’. So, sure, it’s not original, but it provides an immersive, rhythmic bed that the song builds upon. There are some nice instrumental touches on this, such as the swirling guitar that emerges at 3:45. But the repetitive use of the word ‘correlate’ is an unfortunate choice, as it just sounds clunky as a song lyric. Over this lengthy song I’m already getting a sense of that melodrama that you’ve spoken of. It doesn’t bother me so far.

The start of ‘Slowdance I’ sounds like another Martin Hannett production with the clanging noises of metal gates and industrial machinery that probably sounds incredibly sinister at night (I’m listening at midday). As the song builds it starts to sound like another modern day post-post-punk band, The Horrors, particularly as the line “I let it wash over my head” adds a bit of colour to proceedings. But Fran, I like this song. Again, their inspirations are very clear, but it doesn’t mean it’s not well done. And I very much do like the way it seamlessly slides into ‘Slowdance II’. I’m enjoying the big instrumental stretch of this track. This two-part piece shows the band’s confidence in their ability, building atmosphere and giving me space to reflect on the music so far. At least on a structural level, I like the way this record is put together.

I know you’ll have this on vinyl, so side B starts with ‘On Twisted Ground’, which is so restrained it almost sounds acoustic. I enjoy the way they’ve changed pace on this track, but after the palate-cleanser that was the ‘Slowdance’ piece, I don’t need six minutes of this low-key stuff. After four minutes or so, I’m waiting for the next song to begin and can’t imagine listening to this on repeat. Sure enough, the tempo picks up with ‘Feeling Fades’, but this isn’t for the better. The repeated refrain “that now elapsed round you and me” is another one of those awkward lyrical choices that I’m getting snatches of on this first listen. I might be being harsh but it’s a little jarring.

But after this lull things pick up with the short and snappy ‘Don’t Cling To Life’. It’s an urgent, blunt and catchy banger that extols the virtues of living your brief life freely. Compared to the other two songs that sound like singles, this would be a live smash that also feels substantial.

‘How The Streets Adore Me Now’ is different again – this time a slow piano ballad. I’ll give The Murder Capital their due, they’re not one trick ponies. There’s all sorts of versatility to this album rather than just ten guitar-drums-bass anthems. Having said that, the subdued nature of this track certainly doesn’t stand out on first listen. I’d be interested to know if it offers repeat value.

Closer ‘Love, Love, Love’ was another of the tracks you picked out. It ticks the ‘grandiose album closer’ box that almost seems required of records in this genre, but I’ll confess it isn’t leaving much of an impression on me this first time. As often on this album, they’ve competently built a sombre atmosphere – this time it sounds like something inspired by Unknown Pleasures. Maybe it’ll sound more remarkable on another listen.

So going back to the fears I had (see what I-) before listening, it wasn’t all post-punk plagiarism. The opener had some nice texture, I genuinely like those two ‘Slowdance’ tracks and ‘Don’t Cling To Life’ was a sharp highlight. Some others, like ‘Green & Blue’, may sound more notable on further plays. The rest kind of remind me why I think twice about listening to this stuff these days. But as ever, this is one listen – and I’d certainly be up for going along to see that electric live show (seriously though, change the name).

Words by Tom Burrows.

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