The only thing that disappoints me about Tired of Hanging Around is that I'll never get to see the Zutons rocking the shit out of a small, sweaty bar, preferably one close enough to a swamp to smell it. The band's second album tightens the genre hopscotch of its Mercury Prize-nominated 2004 debut, Who Killed the Zutons?, into piping-hot bluesy guitar-rock slop balanced by a driving soul-funk rhythm section and "ooh-ooh" background vocals and horn lines straight out of Motown. The sound -- dubbed "Scousadelic" after a slang term for the heavy Liverpool accent of the band's origin -- is a rich compendium of rock history whittled into confident distinction.
Tired Of Hanging Around had better be tongue-in-cheekily titled, because the Zutons possess that unmistakably rare quality of an exceptional drinking buddy: fun to party with and never tiresome during the next day's throbbing nausea. Producer Stephen Street, responsible for seminal albums by the Smiths in the '80s and Blur and the Cranberries in the '90s, crafts an outstanding sound. It's full-bodied, well-balanced, expansive yet maintains the intimacy of a small live gig. Most crucial is Russell Pritchard's simplistic and energetic bass work centered crisply in the mix. Pritchard complements the two or three guitar overdubs that are expertly panned on the sidelines, giving the album its feel of the days of funk and soul when single-coiled guitars chawka'd and skronked exclusively as rhythm instruments.
The album's appeal lies in its attention to dynamic builds and melodic momentum. "Why Won't You Give Me Your Love?" begins with a big guitar hook that links to a distorted sax line, then quickly drops into a straight-ahead bass and drum groove verse, punctuated only by occasional staccato, trebly guitar chanking chords and bended wails before the verse drops into two measures of minor key, a slick maneuver to build tension before launching into the rollicking, propulsive chorus.
The lyrics fit squarely in rock 'n' roll's timeless motif -- youthful anguish, hangovers, loneliness -- with a sense of whimsy that's neither depressing nor cloying. "Hello Conscience" finds head Zuton Dave McCabe addressing the angel on his shoulder that doesn't understand the comfort of an invigorating bender. "I hear you've got a problem with the way I am, but loneliness never seems to understand," McCabe sings in a rare gritty timbre. "Every time I hear the fizzing on my cup, I hold my head high and say good luck." But this is no moralistic sermon. Good times win out in the rocking chorus that's thrust along by the boinging Devo-pop one-note bass line and the playful drum fill that purposefully pops up a measure earlier than we'd expect. "It's all right to go out at night and forget who you are," he hollers. "All right, then it's up in the morning and back to the start."
The perplexing demands of the heart receive equal treatment. "Valerie" -- a paean to a ginger-haired girlfriend who has disappeared after being arrested -- marries "hoo-hoo"-ing straight outta "Sympathy for the Devil" with meaty distorted bar-band guitar lines that pursue the beefy sax melody line. Saxophonist and lone female member Abi Harding joins McCabe in "You've Got a Friend in Me," a duet about a young woman and the man who follows her home from work and watches her from outside her house. He's perhaps the sweetest, least threatening stalker in rock history, rendered poetic by her eyes, her smile and her face and fearful that meeting her would shatter the "perfect picture of you."
It hardly seems fair to have to pay for having as much fun as the pulsing "The Little Things We Do" --which, like the rest of Tired of Hanging Around, is a crash course in rock evolution with its blues/rockabilly/soul/funk/Southern boogie/calypso blend -- finds McCabe wondering why the "little things" at night make us "feel like death for having a good time." Maybe it's just the headache talking, or maybe the Zutons actually regret the little things they did the night before (that's unlikely). But it's the little things they do that make this one of the most likeable albums of the year.
Label: http://www.columbia.co.uk/"Oh Stacy (Look What You've Done)" video: http://www.thezutons.com/player/