I WAS part “kid on Christmas morning and part “nervous nail-biter” when I began streaming Somewhere Between.
Having followed local lads Alvarez Kings' exploits for some time, I was already familiar with many of the tracks on this debut full-length release.
And I already have a fondness for songs like Cold Conscience, No Resolve and Fear to Feel and Telltale Heart after experiencing them live in a variety of settings (including the atmospheric premises of Rotherham’s own Chantry Brewery).
But a sneak preview at Doncaster’s Leopard pub last October revealed the addition of an electro-pop layer to the band’s indie/pop/rock sound.
It worked live, but would it do so on the finished record? Would powerful ballads and soaring choruses be drowned in heavy production and studio effects? Would singer Simon Thompson’s distinctive, soulful voice be lost in the mix? Would the riffs which define any aspiring anthem be obscured forever?
I’m happy to report the gamble has generally paid off, the Kings keeping the core of what has built them an impressive fanbase stretching across Europe and to the USA while refreshing and developing tracks they have been playing, in some cases, since the last decade.
Somewhere Between has been several years in the making, and its songs speak of the band members’ experiences and heartaches. There’s one about the loss of a friend (The Other Side of Sadness), another about the pain of being separated by loved ones while on tour (the beautifully harmonic Postcards from Berlin) and several about the twists and turns of love affairs and relationships.
If the album has a central theme, it is love. And for every heartbreak — the impassioned, devastated No Resolve with its explosive guitar break is the album’s standout — there is hope, Picking Up the Pieces finding Thompson insisting: “Keep moving forward/Don’t dwell on the past” and "There's plenty more fishes/Tomorrow's a brand new day".
I first saw Simon and his brother Paul live as part of now-defunct Red5hed (pronounced “red shed”) at Clifton Park’s bandstand in 2004.
Since forming Alvarez Kings (they have ex-singer Simon Pashley’s interest in Mafia history to thank for their unique name), there have been changes in personnel (notably the departure of Pashley and the addition of guitarist/singer Sean Parkin and drummer Rich Walker), appearance and sound, but keeping moving forward has always been the aim.
When I spoke to Simon earlier this week, he said the band had been keen to “develop” songs from their existing catalogue, and Somewhere Between certainly does that.
If I’m quibbling, I’d have had the slow-building Run From You as the album opening and probably brought past single Fear to Feel further up the running order, and a few lyrical changes will take some getting used to, but that’s just personal preference.
Newcomers and established fans should find much to relish in one of the most accomplished debut albums I’ve encountered.
Back in 2004, Paul told me: “We may not make the Top 10”, with an aspiration to build on their strong reputation in Rotherham and Sheffield heading his to-do list.
But with Warner Bros in their corner and a far-flung fanbase lapping up their output, that charts-climbing ambition may not be a pipe dream after all.