Following 4 years spent focusing on releasing bands via his Super Fan 99 Records label, Uncle Luc (aka Luke Barham) makes a most-welcome return with the 8-song album ‘Sticking to the Rules’.
‘Plateaux’ opens the record with some ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ guitar strums and Luke singing the words ‘Don’t look back’ over and over again. Although the sound is upbeat and optimistic, some of the lyrics are a bit more self-reflective in a way that recalls Jeffrey Lewis ‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’ – except the subject of Luke’s affections is his own insecurities rather than losing a loved one: ‘I can’t sleep without TV or maybe radio’; ‘don’t always believe what I preach’ and ‘shout to the abyss, there was no echo’. This is followed by ‘Ice Cream’, a short song full of sadness, wit and visceral lyrics: ‘Baby, ice cream won’t fix this one, you’ll see’.
‘Bones of the Day’ finds Luke recalling his days at uni and references everything from VHS and reruns of Dawson’s Creek. It’s a song about how you should always look ahead but that doesn’t mean you have to forget the good times from your past: ‘Bristol was fun, bleached hair and sun. We all thought that we would never age’ and ‘A job that paid for CDs, gear and beer’ being just two lines that Luke is happy to reminisce about. ‘Sophie’ opens with a sample of an aeroplane taking off before a Casio-style 808 track comes in as Luke asks ‘is it possible to feel nostalgic for a place you’ve never been?’ in a Stephen Malkmus-esque power-pop style.
On his first record, Luke looked back at the break-up of his old band and ‘Owner of the Loneliest Song’ covers similar territory. This time around, he discusses the problems and perils of being a 30-something singer-songwriter (‘You tried not to care when the demo that you posted was the loneliest song on the web. Still no plays yet’) and tries offers advice to others in the same boat: ‘And you think ‘Is it time that I quit?’ You think ‘Is there ever any money in this?’ And that’s not the point because you love to write songs, even if they’re never heard by no one’. It’s a tribute to the power of songwriting and creativity.
Over the past few years, Luke has made many visits to Los Angeles and ‘Hollywood Gum’ is inspired by them. He starts the song by offering an account of the inner workings of a flight and uses this as a metaphor for the way people always strive for more. He then describes the difference between looking at grey and drizzly England from a plane window and the ‘swimming pools and a circuit board of freeways’ you’ll see before you land in the US. There’s a touch of sadness but also a love and yearning for home comforts as the song moves on. The final song on this short and sweet record, ‘6-Star Hotel’ is wistful and falls somewhere between Noel Gallagher’s early Oasis B-sides and fellow Surrey songwriter Nick Lowe.
With dips into folk, indie and even synth-pop – not to mention additional pedal steel guitar by the legendary BJ Cole – ‘Sticking to the Rules’ is a fine album from that finds Luke embracing the influences he grew up listening to and talking about the way things change as you grow older with great humour.