The new album from Picturebox, Escapes, out tomorrow via Gare Du Nord, is perhaps the finest this band has released to date. Fans of The Great Escape-era Blur should find lots to love here. And I can think of no higher praise than that.
Now, even as main-man Robert Halcrow (bass, keys, guitar and lead vocals) sounds a tad like Albarn on the sly "Divvy Cabs", or on the languid and lovely "Sirens", there's loads more here on Escapes that reveals debts owed to The Kinks, XTC (in their The Big Express phase), or even Television Personalities. The fun "I Got The Pox" nods in the direction of "I'm A Boy" from The Who, or even something from Jilted John, the effect a gently-unhinged one that made me smile. The track seems a distant cousin of stuff from Go-Kart Mozart, and drummer Ian Button was featured on the last album from that Lawrence-fronted act. Elsewhere, the title cut borrows a bit from the glory days of power pop to give energy to an infectious hook, while the elegant "Nice Boys' Mobile Disco" again channels Go-Kart Mozart and even Luke Haines for a cut that's at once elegiac and a bit silly.
On Escapes, Halcrow and the rest of his crew -- Ben Lockwood, Button, Alex Williams, Jack Hayter, and Matthew Dutra -- manage to make this material seem entirely original despite the bits and pieces that clearly owe so much to earlier pioneers like, say, Martin Newell and Andy Partridge. Escapes works so well because Halcrow and company exercise a light touch. Nothing feels forced here, and the strong melodies and clever lyrics shine with a listener left to sort of marvel at how refined the Picturebox approach has become in just the space of a few years.