A couple of years ago when everyone was heaping praise on The Goon Sax’s debut LP ‘Up To Anything’, I could be forgiven for thinking that I was the only one who was a just a tiny bit non-plussed. While much of it was perfectly fine DiY guitar pop, the album never quite managed to catch fire for me; often it seemed a little too straightforward in its approach to fully do justice to the songs, and in particular James Harrison’s awkward, slightly whiney voice tended to mar some of his own efforts past the point of distraction. But “We’re Not Talking” is a different proposition altogether. Assured and sophisticated where its predecessor was often clumsy and rudimentary, it’s quickly become a favourite round here in a year already stacked with fine releases (and I’m not going to mention anybody’s father…)
While the debut concentrated on the basics (perhaps a little too much), it’s clear that this album is a more ambitious proposition right from the very beginning. There’s a swagger in the step of opener “Make Time For Love”, with its lush string arrangement and ticking, infectious cowbell, which wonderfully complements Louis Forster’s wry and witty lyrics. Like many of his songs, the words are sharp and a little cynical (“I felt happy when you said you don’t need me”) and it’s an approach which plays to his strengths, but it also makes it all the more touching when he reveals his vulnerable side. This is most in evidence on the gorgeous, understated ballad “We Can’t Win”, a duet with drummer Riley Jones, where she and Forster portray lovers with similar feelings on opposite sides of a struggling relationship, while a tinny piano and warm acoustic guitar provide the backbone of the song. “These nights staring at your back have made me lonely/ We don’t want distance but it seems to come to us so easily” sings Forster at one disarmingly honest point, and all his previous archness seems to fade away completely. Elsewhere, Harrison has upped his game massively, taking on Forster more or less song for song and often coming out on top. The “Before Hollywood“-esque rumble (not gonna say it…) of “She Knows” is probably the best upbeat moment here, propelled by its driving, melodic bassline, as Harrison expertly skirts the line between self obsessed teen and lost little boy (“I wanna know what you think about me / ‘Cause I don’t know how I think about me”).
But for all the brilliance of both Forster and Harrison’s contributions, it’s Jones who steals the show. Her one solo moment in the spotlight, “Strange Light”, is the high water mark of “We’re Not Talking“, a dreamy acoustic reverie reflecting on the end of first love. The drums drop out almost altogether here and her vocal is left to shine, inconsolable in its resignation (“I’ll miss the sadness, that’s the only thing that I have ever known“) and all the more moving for its naive, understated quality. There are moments on “Strange Light” that have left me in tears more than once these past few months and it remains one of my favourite songs from this year.
Added to this, her duets on “We Can’t Win” and the wistful closer “Till The End” bestow them with a poignancy lacking on the boys’ solo efforts and confirm her role as beating heart of the group. One gets the sense that if Jones were to contribute more evenly across the board, then there might well be even greater heights that The Goon Sax could yet scale. But no matter, “We’re Not Talking” is fantastic from start to finish anyway, a massive step up from their debut and a record that in a few years time I suspect we’ll be referring to as a classic. Given the band’s youthful and hugely talented line up, perhaps the most heartening thing to take away from this LP is that there’s every reason to believe that this is only the beginning.