That fellow up there is Nick Halliwell. He was in The Distractions, a band you probably should have heard of. These days he's in the band The Granite Shore with Phil Wilson of The June Brides. The group is about to release the follow-up to their excellent 2015 long-player in a few days. Suspended Second will be out on Friday via Occultation Records and it is, as you might expect, also something of a masterpiece, an epic of precise instrumentation and trenchant lyricism. Put simply, I cannot stress enough how special this record is.
Along with Halliwell and Wilson, The Granite Shore features Arash Torabi on bass, Ian Henderson on drums, Steve Perrin on guitars and backing vocals, and John Howard on piano and backing vocals. The players, and the passages of music they provide, are all under the watchful eye of leader Halliwell, who is also the producer of this one as that pic up there illustrates. Of a piece, the numbers here make up what some would call a sort of concept album but that shouldn't scare you off. What that term should indicate, instead, is how intricately intertwined the cuts are here.
As opener "So It Begins" gently starts only to build up into something with the wit and liveliness of a rollicking mid-Nineties single from Pulp, a listener is brought into the world of The Granite Shore easily. If this is chamber pop, Halliwell is intent on finding the big pop hooks that this material can yield, even amid borderline-dour lyrical concerns. The superb "Outside, Looking In" tackles Brexit with a deftness of touch that is really remarkable. If Halliwell's lyrics indicate a cynicism and weariness with the whole issue, the tune itself brings those emotions forward with all the pep of an old June Brides single. Even more so than on the band's first album, Halliwell seems entirely in command here, his vision one that has been translated easily by these players. "There's Always One" speaks, perhaps, to bands breaking up and players moving on, but it follows the Granite Shore formula of a string of small, intimate moments offered up before a big chorus. "Where Does The Sadness Come From?" pulls in pre-disco Bee-Gees numbers for inspiration for its surprisingly-infectious chorus, while the epic-length "The Performance of a Lifetime" looks again at Brexit but also at something else, perhaps.
The admirable thing about the lyrics here on this new album from The Granite Shore is that the words matter, even as things remain a bit opaque and obscure at times. Rather than offer up a clutch of polemics, Halliwell has served up something with a bit more nuance, something from the pen of a classicist. And so, Suspended Second is that rarest of things: a concept album that isn't pretentious. The closest comparison point seems to be Odessey and Oracle where the elegant rock of The Zombies found its full perfection. Similarly, The Granite Shore have delivered a stately song-cycle here with Suspended Second, an album where the individual songs sound fantastic but better when taken as a whole.
Seemingly a record of the British zeitgeist these days, the music made by The Granite Shore in 2017 is elegiac and necessarily mournful. That it is also buoyantly tuneful is praise that should be added to that description. Still, Suspended Second captures a mood in the air, and Halliwell has here offered a eulogy for something that has been snuffed out in England. For the record isn't just about Brexit but, rather, something larger, something that's died in the modern character. There's a seriousness of intent here that -- thankfully -- did not load this down with too much weight, despite all my talk hereabouts of the Brexit stuff.
The Granite Shore make music that strives to be something more than just the usual fluff. What this is is the elevation of the pop song into something approaching Art, and that that elevation has been achieved 9 times here on Suspended Second is thanks to the strengths of Halliwell, Wilson, Torabi, Henderson, Perrin, and Howard. And if the lyrics speak of the death of modern England, or somehow obliquely mourn the passing of drummer Mike Kellie who was on the first Granite Shore record, that's just a few more layers of meaning on an already richly-rewarding record.
[Photos: studio pic by Jason Mitchell; Nick Halliwell live pic by Angie Knight]