Virtue Signals by Steven Adams & The French DropsRelease date: April 4, 2018
Label: Hudson Records
As you’re reading this on the internet it’s probably safe to assume you’ve noticed that we live in fractious times, our public discourse divided and ill tempered. From the title on down, this is one of the major themes addressed on Virtue Signals the new album from Steven Adams and his hot new beat combo The French Drops. I doubt it’s escaped your notice either that the very patron saint of indie sensitivity himself has upset untold numbers of the formerly devout by nailing his colours to the shaky, rotten, and disturbingly racist, mast of For Britain. Those indie kid snowflake remoaners left casting about for a smart, literate purveyor of pleasingly melodic indie rock should really be taking Steven Adams to their hearts. To be honest, it’s long overdue. Adams is not Morrissey of course, he lacks the self delusion required to become an iconic figure, he’s made consistently great records this century and he’s also gradually grown up. The hilarious bitterness and caustic wit that made The Broken Family Band such fun has given way to a more mature outlook. This album follows two with Singing Adams and two solo. They vary subtly from one another but all centre around his wonderful songwriting. The French Drops aren’t The Smiths (although ‘Imprinted’ definitely cops a move from ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’), Michael Wood who played bass in Singing Adams has moved to keys in The French Drops, any experiments with black metal and grime have been left discretely in the rehearsal room.
If Virtue Signals is not quite the ‘Brexit-themed rock opera’ Adams jokes it is, it still pokes its fingers into the cracks that have opened up but swerves the well worn arguments and clichés – nobody says the B word. Opening statement of intent ‘Bad Apples’ takes on tiresome little Englander rhetoric through an impressionistic tumble of observations and blunt questions “The people who need to divide us, they would like our ideas to die, isn’t that nice?” Despair about the current bleak outlook becomes more pointed on the driving ‘Ex Future’ “You want someone to blame, for what this could be, for what this is not” Although there’s an anger firing all this, like an overworked teacher, Adams is more disappointed. In our loss of basic civility, our atrophied humanity.
‘Paul’ concerns a pasty faced inadequate still living with his mom and pouring out his alienation and bile through youtube. ‘Wolves In The Echo Chamber’ takes a similar approach to an online troll “some people cross the bridge, you live under it” but ultimately holds out the possibility of understanding rather than sneering dismissal “If you’re lonely, you should say so. Instead of lashing out, instead of poisoning the well”. See what I mean? Grown up. Looking beyond squabbling and name calling to a time we might all have to get along together again on our little island. If Adams has left behind the folk and country moves of earlier records as a slightly uncomfortable fit he seems to have held on to a form of folk motivation, an idea of community, his own presence in the songs recedes. During Singing Adams he spoke in interviews about how much the band just enjoyed singing together and his songs quite often have simple repeating sections that lend themselves to communal singing. ‘A Joke’ rides a repeating piano figure and breaks down in the middle to a chorus repeating “It’s a joke” and there are similar if less singular moments right across the record.
The last couple of tunes reach out to opposing ends of the band’s sound ‘Free Will’ rattles along on a driving bass line and organ, the press release calls it krautrock which seems a little optimistic but it’s certainly propulsive. The final tune ‘Desire Lines’ is drowsy and beautiful like a fading summer’s day and about as lovely as anything he’s yet written. It finds him lost and confused, holding tight to what good we can find, “all we have are these moments of joy”. I love Steven Adams. I love his songs and his wit, and his cheeky grin. His heart not quite on his sleeve but clearly visible through it. It’s high time a lot more people loved him too. This wonderful record should really be all over the 6 music playlist like a rash to ensure it.