The Computers have long been one of the best live bands around and have an ever-evolving and changing sound – starting out as a punk band, second album ‘Love Triangles, Hate Squares’ found them delving into something more in line with The Clash and ‘60s rock and roll, Thankfully, they seem to nail whatever style they try their hand at and now with third album ‘Birth/Death’ they’re jumping straight into a concept album all about mortality and the futility of life. Coming out via One Little Indian, it’s long awaited and comes on the back of a tough few years that have seen personal tragedies and plenty of change in the band members’ life.
When Al Kershaw sat down to write this record, he decided it should open with a song about birth and finish with a song about death. Fittingly, the acapella song ‘Birth’ I where things kick off. Very restrained, it finds Al talk about coming into this world and then ask important – and near impossible – questions like ‘What difference can I make when life has taken all it can take?’ This is followed by another song that hints at pregnancy, the previously released ‘Want the News? Here’s the Blues’. With its tremendous hook of an opening and a rhetorical question in the title, it’s The Computers showcasing their love of teddy boy rock in quite some style. There’s another sing-along shortly after with the dominant ‘This Ain’t Right’. The group chants of the title are perfectly set against Al’s falsetto as he asks the subject of the song to ‘Hit me where it hurts’. He even throws in some Jacko-style wails towards the end of this perfect showcase of pop how it used to be.
The poignant and affecting ‘Mother’ follows this and takes a step back as Al sings about the loss of his and bandmate Fred Ansell’s mothers with sincerity and searing honesty: ‘The death of my mother hit me as hard as you might expect’. He doesn’t just focus on himself; he tries to understand the grieving process that husbands go through when they have ‘lost his other heart’. After this Al talks about all the future plans and celebrations that his sister will miss sharing with their mother. A personal and heartfelt tribute, these important messages are wrapped up in cowbell drums and slightly funky hooks. He also tries to let his dad know he understands his pain: ‘Father, oh father, I know you’re tired of being alone’. There’s a gloriously shanty piano on ‘NYE’. It’s a danceable and addictive song you’ll be tapping along to, but once again sadness is shining through. Al wonders if he’s wasting time on a suitor before then getting set to strut his stuff on 31 December. However, things might not go to plan and a brutal reality is starting to dawn: ‘Capital letters, NYE, it’s the last day of the year and I’ve got nowhere to be. Capital letters, NYE, I think I need you more than you need me’.
Obviously, ‘God Only Knows’ shares its title with a certain other song but here it finds The Computers veering into stadium rock territory. And it’s quite simply a glorious listen. There’s a timeless feel to it and with its gospel tinge, it’s a festival anthem in waiting – think of it alongside The Xcerts’ newer material. There’s also some rather revealing lyrics: ‘The simplest things to say can be the hardest things to mean’. We also especially resonated with the line: ‘I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know what to write about’. The Computers also dip their toes into a new romantic sound on ‘Pound for Pound’ and glam rock on the stomping ‘Crucifixed on You’. Obviously on an album that tackles the subject of life and death in such fashion, the subjects of religion and beliefs pop up over and over again – but don’t worry nothing gets too weighed down in the heaviness of these topics. The music’s too fun for that. ‘Weighed Down’ reminds us of ‘In It for the Money’-era Supergrass while ‘Little Death’ is a love song (with a touch of Bryan Adams – that’s a compliment) that has Al pleading with his lover to be here while his bandmates back up his claim of being someone to rely on: ‘You don’t have to go, you don’t have to go’.
As the album comes to its end and tackles the subject of death straight on, what better way to discuss this than with a power ballad? ‘Bad Wolf’ is the lighter-in-the-air anthem the record deserves, nay, needs. It focuses on how beautiful it would be to die with a loved one nearby: ‘If we are still together as the lights are going out, I would not run or panic as there wasn’t any doubt if you believe in heaven than our love would be a ghost’. Aided by tambourines and quite possibly some handclaps, Al then goes on to repeatedly sing how ‘you would be the only thing I would not change if I could go back and live again’. Following this up with some ‘no, no, nos’ as the loved one slips away, these slowly morph into ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ as he starts to remember the good times.
An important album that delves into all sorts of weighty topics with an appealing ease, this finds The Computers showing why they’re a band who will improve your life.