Django Django: Marble Skies review – lots of fun, but pretty vapid
The jokes about a Scottish man, an Englishman and an Irish man have grown so thin by now there’s no point in pursuing the punchlines, but you have to hand it to Dundee’s David Maclean, Leeds’s Jimmy Dixon and Donegal’s Vincent Neff (not forgetting Scotsman Tommy Grace): they certainly know how to put a smile on your face.
It has been so from the very start of this so-called art-rock band, who in 2012 released their self-titled debut album. The initial, unassuming hope was that the first record would act as a calling-card, but it exceeded every expectation. As it went on to sell more than 100,000 copies and get a shortlist nod for that year’s Mercury Music Prize, Django Django progressed from gigging in the backs of pub venues to playing festival dates in front of almost as many people as bought the album. It was too much too soon, and, in the way these matters develop, the musicians – euphoria giving way to anxiety – retreated for a while to ponder what to do next.
A nagging thought that band and music combined was a lucky one-off hung around like a bad smell, yet here we are, six years later, with album number three. Django Django’s second record, Born Under Saturn, released in 2015, did what the majority of follow-ups do: safely and strategically stick to the template that made the first one so successful, but Marble Skies strikes out in various new-ish directions.
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There is some folly here, of course, and there remains the band’s much-publicised regard for the art school collage/cut-and-paste approach, which can itself bring self-inflicted, self-indulgent complications.
What holds the album so well together, however, is what puts that big smile on your face: tunes. Melodies pour out of Marble Skies as if they’re going out of fashion, and while there’s a good game of spot-the-influences to take part in, the end result is more often than not a melody line that refuses to budge.
Several songs in particular form the spine of the album as well as highlight new routes. Abetted by deliriously rhythmic krautrock, the title track is a canny exercise in propulsive pop music. Champagne is a bass-driven amalgam of Scissor Sisters and one of those classic 1960s British groups that inspired future generations of musicians (we’re guessing The Zombies). Sundials is an “out there” wig-out co-written by veteran jazz-fusion keyboard player Jan Hammer, and it benefits from an experimental sensibility that has previously been hinted at but never fully nailed down. Further, meanwhile, has such warm, perfect-pop compactness that it begs – without desperation or pity – comparison to Brian Wilson’s glory days in the sandbox.
The remaining six songs fly the flag, too, but after several listens to the album there’s a sense that – aforementioned pop pleasures notwithstanding – it’s a bit all mouth and no trousers. This is where folly raises its hands, causing Marble Skies to sound more like a jumbled, random arrangement of songs created by clever musicians; they know how to transfer the good times they have in the studio to the dancefloor, but beyond that the music doesn’t say or feel anything of worth.
Pop music, of course, doesn’t need to have emotional resonance to make you fall in love with it – or even admire or hum along to it – but it helps if something in it connects with the head as much as the body. Some noteworthy songs aside, Marble Skies is surface noise – a sound-cloud, if you will – that scatters too quickly for its own good.