This review was originally published in April 2012 by the now-defunct AllSeeingEyeLondon. I’ve been meaning to do a write up of an LTJ album for a while and, having seen them live twice in the past eight days, thought I would resurrect this piece. The originally-published piece was slightly tweaked by the editors, but as that version is no longer available, this is the original copy I sent over, unaltered (aside the removal of one seemingly-misplaced word and one typo).
To mark their 20th anniversary, Less Than Jake released two five-track EPs (one June 2011; the other February 2012) both of which were recorded in bassist Roger’s studio The Moathouse. Together these ten tracks effectively set out to convince the listener that 2008’s GNV FLA wasn’t a one-off “return to form that could be called the ‘traditional’ Less Than Jake sound” (as its press release stated), following the less-than-favourably received In with the Out Crowd (2006); and are, I would argue, quite successful in doing so.
The latest of the EPs – Seasons Greetings from Less Than Jake – opens with ‘The New Auld Lang Syne’ which, with its crunchy guitar and crescendo-ing fade-in, feels like ‘Last Hour of the Last Day of Work’ – albeit with brass – and could perhaps have been lifted straight from Borders & Boundaries (2000). Chris’ vocals are particularly nasally (no bad thing) and the opening line is so-typically Less Than Jake that I shan’t mention it, so as not to ruin the surprise. Indeed, with its mix of crunch and ska guitar, and the repetitive chorus lines that the band do so well, the song is a great opener; certainly the best choice out of the songs on offer.
Though the band have stressed that the releases are not seasonally-themed, specifically that the latter “is no Christmas record” – a claim which the snowman on the cover would surely contest – the lead guitar on the second track, ‘Younger Lungs’, sounds suspiciously like a certain Christmas song. Irrespective of this, the song sees the much-welcomed alternating vocals between Chris and Roger, as well as (to-be-expected) Whoa’s from Chris and, following on from the previous track, wonderfully Vinnie-esque lyrics: “Remember when this was the promised land? / Awake at night with no future plan . . . Let’s go back and do it all again” – that cocktail of nostalgia and regretful apathy that fans have come to know and love. The song also boasts a catchy chorus and breakdown complete with the quieter, considerate guitar parts that have found their way into later releases.
Vinnie’s drumming, for the record, is solid and consistent as always, and the numerous stop/starts and accents sit compliment neatly the other instruments, commanding more clout and prominence than one might expect, as they often do. In particular, his use of the ride (as with the other anniversary EP) picks up where GNV FLA left off.
The third track, ‘A Return to Headphones’ is, in my opinion, the weakest song of the five, and is consequently my least favourite. The song is arguably carried by its lyrics – “This is not mean to apologise for any place or time / This is not meant to eulogize for years gone by” – and given its theme and that its vocals are sung primarily by Roger, it is reminiscent of ‘Golden Age of My Negative Ways’; though feels flatter and forced in comparison to the former’s bounce and apathy. That being said, the brass solo three quarters of the way through is entertaining, followed immediately by a short stand-out riff by Chris before kicking back into the chorus. Truth be told, on reflection the track possibly merits more credit than I am now offering, but it nevertheless failed to grab my attention in the same way other songs did.
‘Done and Dusted’ in contrast, is my favourite track. With Vinnie’s snare picking up the pace, the verses are decidedly-melancholy, juxtaposed with talk of summer and freewheeling brass in the background, before entering into a bridge which perhaps (lyrically) is the best example of a nod to “traditional” LTJ: “With boredom on my brain / The clouds roll over Tampa bay / We’re waiting on the rain / To wash the past away”, whilst the chorus that follows is infectious, leading eventually to an extended bout of Woah’s from Chris – again a return to staple features of the band’s “classics” (for the record, this particularly noteworthy also in ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ on last summer’s EP).
Roger’s bass stands out less than in earlier releases but, then again, as has been the case with the band’s later work, his vocal delivery has become his most the most interesting part of his performance. That being said, the bass does subtly break through from time to time, as it always has done in one way or another.
The closer, ‘Finer Points of Forgiveness’ is ridiculously catchy, and Roger delivers brilliant lyrics in precisely the bouncy manner noted earlier. Like ‘A Return to Headphones’, the song bursts onto the scene with brass from the outset, feeling oddly like a (more successful) rewrite of the former, made so by way of its hooky verse and the accents present in its chorus (a similar strength of ‘Younger Lungs’). In a presumably irresistible choice with regards to song order, the open-ended question in the track’s chorus rounds of the EP nicely, very much leaving those satisfied wanting more.
Seasons Greetings is, then, further sign of the band moving back towards their “traditional” era. At times however, they admittedly sound stuck between Borders & Boundaries and GNV FLA, resulting in a curious mash-up. Whilst this is no bad thing necessarily, one wonders when and how exactly they will make it back over the chasm into the realm of Hello Rockview (1998) if such a direction is in fact the one in which the band are heading. Irrespective of this, coupled with the earlier EP, the band has retreaded familiar themes with regards to lyrics, and shows no sign of slowing down in its musical output. Truth be told, I continuously find these songs’ choruses stuck in my head, and consider myself somewhat addicted to the record at present, a fact which may or may not render the previous nine paragraphs entirely meaningless.
Given the surprise announcement of both Greetings From and Seasons Greetings, one cannot help but presume that more is in the works, and, whatever the future holds, may it be awaited eagerly.