Album Review: The Woodentops – Granular Tales

Amidst the dour lyrical sentiments and ill-fitting raincoats of the ’80s UK indie scene, South London quintet The Woodentops injected much-needed bursts of optimism. While Morrissey pissed and moaned about every insurmountable obstacle life pitched in his path, The Woodentops’ frontman Rolo McGinty unfurled a string of singles (“Good Thing,” “Love Affair with Everyday Living”) that brimmed with bonhomie and camaraderie. It’s no wonder their 1985 single “Well Well Well” became a dance floor favorite in Ibiza during the early days of ecstasy culture.

In the hands of a lesser band, cheerful sentiments like “I want to share everything with you” (“Move Me”) could’ve seemed trite, yet The Woodentops imbued their performances with irresistible exuberance and executed them with a light touch. Animated by lively percussion, acoustic guitar, and McGinty’s conversational singing style, the quintet’s songs left plenty of space in the arrangements; throughout the band’s initial six-year run, On-U Sound mastermind Adrian Sherwood reassembled these components into a handful of memorable remixes and dubs.

Mercifully, all these key pieces remain in place on Granular Tales, the band’s first studio full-length in 25 years (available now on Cherry Red Records). Lead single “Third Floor Rooftop High” rekindles the ebullience that made the band’s early work so endearing, while “Every Step of the Way” harks back to the classic “Love Train,” albeit with echoes of The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” reverberating through the chorus’ cascading vocals. Quieter, contemplative songs like “A Little More Time” and “Take Me Through the Night” still bristle with emotional transparency, and the rhythmic fluidity running throughout these twelve tracks ensures that even the slower selections never feel static.

Unemployment, class disparity, unjust wars, corrupt politicians — the problems that bedeviled England and America during The Woodentops’ first go-around — remain as vexing as ever. The passing of years hasn’t alleviated these woes, yet neither has it diminished The Woodentops’ ability to counter them with propulsive grooves and uplifting lyrics. Granular Tales sounds like the logical successor to 1988’s Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway. It took a far sight longer to reach fruition than diehard fans might’ve liked, but it’s certainly worth the wait.

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