They may now be no more but the brief story of Chapel Club is one of the most fascinating of recent times. Their legacy will be a couple of anthemic singles, an excellent EP and two wildly different albums. In fact the difference between the two albums is arguably what killed them. You have to wonder whether all five members of the band were content to completely change their style especially after such a well-received debut.
There’s no subtle deviation from formula here. In advance of the new album’s release frontman Lewis Bowman wanted to produce “something bright and playful and surprising”. It’s fair to say he achieved these aims and it must be conceded ‘Palace’ was roughly 75% rooted in the past but his further announcements such as “Forgive us while we purge the CC fanbase of dopamine-soaked post-punk nostalgists” won’t have endeared him to followers of their earlier sounds or, for that matter, dopamine-soaked post-punk nostalgists.
The album begins, rather bravely one could argue, with the shifting, disorientating beats of ‘Sleep Alone’ and immediately gives the impression that if this record does have a dancier vibe, it’s not a “wave your hands, let’s celebrate” type of record; it’s far too experimental and smart for that and the opening lyrics “Go out every night, I’m so tired… How could I let myself sink so low” share the same reluctant party-goer vibe as latter-day Roxy Music. ‘Sequins’ certainly fits the description of “playful” but the rumbling bass undertow and Bowman’s forlorn lyrics balance out the pretty synths. The radio-friendly ‘Shy’ and the video game melodies of ‘Wordy’ toy with Bowman in both digitised and falsetto form whilst ‘Jenny Baby’ piles on the echo and drum loops.
Synth-heavy records often evoke inevitable comparisons with the 1980’s but in the case of ‘Good Together’, it very rarely reeks of nostalgia; a testament to the inventive musicianship of Bowman’s bandmates. In fact, only on the Human League-esque ‘Fruit Machine’ do the band begin to sound like someone else. The beats and bleeps of the first single and title track cannot disguise the ennui of Bowman’s delivery where even the unnecessarily-extended outro drips with prolonged regret. The outstanding cut comes later for the cinematic, swirling soundscapes of ‘Force You’ with Bowman’s voice acting as a cool, melancholic breeze to counter the fantastic, psychedelic arrangement of harp and keyboards. Finally, the romantic, quasi-easy listening vibe of ‘Just Kids’ represents a rather sweet send-off for both the band and this album.
In terms of dance-inflected experimental pop, ‘Good Together’ stands up alongside the best work of Hot Chip but it certainly doesn’t sound like Hot Chip; there’s a unique style here which doesn’t offer any easy comparisons. Their proposed next step – according to the soundbite-savvy Bowman again – promised George Michael-style vocals, suggesting yet more means to kill off another section of the fan base. Whatever happens now, though, Chapel Club left behind two very different but also rather brilliant albums.
Hot Chip, Roxy Music