A life-affirming return from one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets.
Label: Alcopop! Records
Released: 26th January 2018
“Fuck you, I’m still alive,” sing indie-pop gems The Spook School on the appropriately titled ‘Still Alive’, and for all the placard-waving platitudes, it gets to the nub of what makes the Scots quartet so bloody great.
Heart-on-sleeve and earnest, there’s an unwavering force to the message that underpins every track on ‘Could It Be Different?’, elevating the group’s socially-conscious pop-rock/indie-punk to Martha levels of brilliance.
It’s smart stuff too – as you’d expect from a group that takes its name from an early 20th century Glaswegian group of artists. Whether it’s riffing off The Smiths or discussing topics of abusive relationships (‘Still Alive’), masculinity and identity, ‘Could It Be Different?’ is witty and eloquent, filled with easy-on-the-ear hooks and a matter-of-fact lyricism that softens the heavy themes.
Yet there is also an optimism to ‘Could It Be Different?’ that breaks through with regular frequency. “Teenage hopes are never less than perfect anyway,” sings Anna Cory on ‘Less Than Perfect’, and in a messy story of growing up, it’s the sort of message that will resonate with those struggling to find their place.
Coupled with The Spook School’s desire to find resolution, ‘Could It Be Different?’ brims with positivity. Sure, it’s embedded in the mundanity of modern life, but by tackling the challenges with a wry smile and charming tact, it makes for a powerful experience. This is especially true on the outstanding ‘Bad Year’, a sweeping, swooning centrepiece of fuzzy guitars and blue sky positivity (albeit tempered by crushing reality), where all of these strands get pulled together with bold, smart strokes.
While previous effort ‘Try To Be Hopeful’ was somewhat patchy, there are no such problems on ‘Could It Be Different?’, which is both charmingly beguiling and pointedly forthright throughout. The result is a life-affirming return from one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. Rob Mair