The first thing to note is the title. Field Music, aka the brothers Brewis, are not known for writing songs in ‘common time’, with regular numbers of beats to the bar. Their last, quite brill album Plumb was full of tunes in wonky time signatures, just like their other three studio albums. Intelligent pop music like Hot Chip, Steely Dan and Pet Shop Boys are the models, but Field Music have a real claim on being their own genre. For all the lop-sidedness of their tunes, there are still tunes within them.
The Noisy Days are Over is the opener to Commontime, which within five seconds has announced itself as a Field Music track with a familiar funky guitar. No Kid A type bleeps here, basically. Over the course of six minutes, the song ticks off all the great Field Music USPs: odd harmonies that work, percussion on a beer bottle, a shimmering chorus and a great title, plus a few well-placed diminished guitar chords. And a free-jazz saxophone break. Because of course.
Disappointed follows, with its funky bass and smart chorus: ‘If you want me to be right all the time, you’re going to be disappointed’, with some nice vocal effects on the word of the song’s title. There’s lots of variety here, as ever. There’s noir, and an oddly composed backbeat, in But Not For You, and some lovely strings on They Want You to Remember, another one of those chamber pop Field Music pieces that they do so well.
On-the-beat guitars in 6/4 time drive I’m Glad, which ends with a drum solo that seems to match John Bonham’s in Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. How Should I Know begins with a guitar that actually sounds like Jimmy Page, while the spectral Trouble at the Lights has a doomy (communication) breakdown section. Who knew two nerdy brothers from North-East England were such Zepheads?
Indeed It Is and Same Name are less heavy rock, more art rock, instantly putting the listener in mind of Devo and cementing the allusion with some quirky lyrics. That’s Close Enough for Now borrows the chord shift, acoustic guitar stabs and the wailing guitar solo from Pink Floyd, pleasing those who remember being young and foolish and high in 1973.
If you don’t get what Field Music are doing, which is to be put their idiosyncratic spin on western pop music, you’ll have switched off by now. Those who keep going, as well as former FM fans, will be enraptured. Commontime is an album which, for best results, requires some knowledge of pop and rock to fully appreciate it. Even if you don’t remember the tunes on first listen, the album coils its way inside your ear, almost like a worm, the more you listen and the more attentively you do so. A contender for smartest album of the month, for sure.