The new album from Amoeba Teen charts a band contemplating middle age, the middle class, and a comfortably numb life among middle Englanders. MEDIUM WAVE resurrects the band’s classic pop instincts, set in the midst of a mid-life crisis that challenges the genre’s lyrical formula to which power pop aficionados are accustomed.
Like the album’s title, Amoeba Teen looks back longingly to a previous radio era, as they survey an inner and outer world in flux and old physical certainties giving way to digital white noise. But there’s also a different kind of medium they seek, calling on the spirit and wisdom of Chris Bell, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson.
Oscar Wilde once remarked, “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.” The album’s starter Clementine, a mid-tempo folky waltz underscores Wilde’s insight, with a sneering cynicism as, outsiders, Britton and Turner, ‘lift the lid on the cackling crush’. Defiantly, they ask the masses to come outside and embrace the cold. The agenda couldn’t be more explicit: this a band unwilling to succumb to the mainstream.
After a hypnotic conclusion to the album’s opener, we’re thrust into Babycakes, a jaunty Beach Boys-esque number that features stabbing horns. Here Britton contemplates the novelty and excitement of an emotionally unstable ‘drama queen’ versus the ‘steady-as-she-goes’ contentment of the familiar. This is a theme the album flirts with later on in the string-laden Wandering Bullets, where forgiveness is sought while reminding the listener of everyday addictions we all quietly lean on to get through the day. In other words, don’t be so quick to judge.
Suit and Tie delivers on the raucous up-tempo rock n roll that Amoeba Teen are known for; performed live and mastered at the world famous Abbey Road studios. Yet even among the crunchy guitars and bass, Turner draws our attention to a man trapped in middle management. Britton and Bayliss join in on catchy choral harmonies, in sympathy rather than mockery at the man’s predicament.
Hickory Hill turns left towards alt-country territory, where we are taken on a sunny day stroll. But not everything is plain sailing. For there is another place – beyond Britton’s reach – that he won’t ever get to in this life. In acknowledging his own mortality and also surrendering to his inadequacies Britton acquiesces, with a simple request to scatter his ashes in a world he never lived in. Rather than straying into a morbid tale, the song offers the listener a heart-warming story of someone finding quiet contentment with what they’ve been given.
Another wave washes over us in Ship To Shore, as Turner and Britton warn us that the fog’s coming down and that the Black Dog is never far away. Lyrical abstractions give way to a reminder that even ‘the greatest navigators got blinded by the sun’.
Medium Wave is an album for the everyman standing at their crossroads. It’s an album for those in the middle who continue to enjoy ‘the shock of the new’ but have a growing sentimentality for yesteryear. This is the sound of a band that is learning to appreciate the good in the present while sleeping with one eye open. And in doing so, Amoeba Teen continue to subvert the power pop genre, yet never straying far from a strong hook and catchy melody.