After a spell touring as a duo, Dublin-based Lucky Bones have returned to a full band sound for their third album Matchstick Men. Rocky and reflective in equal measure, the record doffs its hat to some musical heavyweights and doesn't pale in comparison. It also offers us a glimpse of songwriter Eamonn O’Connor’s gift for pitching downbeat emotion against a decidedly upbeat musical sensibility.
Opening with a protracted slow fade, title track ‘Matchstick Men’ kicks off with guitarist Peter O’Grady impressively channelling his inner Mark Knopfler. The song is energetic, feisty and hooky while the subject matter comes from the painful vantage point of losing a father. Rather than being steeped in specific mourning, the song becomes universal: a song about all our fathers and our attempts to measure ourselves against them and reassess life in their absence. An arresting start, the track is a testament both to O’Connor as a songwriter and O’Grady as a seriously accomplished guitarist.
Drummer Binzer Brennan must get a special mention, and not just for having the cool kind of a name only drummers have; he turns in a superb performance on ‘The Things’, which has an easy going swagger and is adorned with more effortless guitar playing. The fragile quavering of O’Connor’s vocal here reminds me of the mighty Justin Rutledge (look him up, thank me later). Track three sees the band changing tack with the soul-flavoured ‘Gone’, a song about time (always a favourite subject of mine) which is - perhaps intentionally - dressed in a wah-wah guitar part straight from the mid-seventies. Assuming you’re not totally allergic to this sort of soundworld then the song pays dividends, reflecting as it does on life’s peculiar habit of passing by in a flash.
The pounding drums and sizzling guitars of ‘Breathe’ put us back onto the terra firma of rock with O’Connor’s raw vocal bearing a striking resemblance to Fergal Sharkey in his Undertones prime. The rock continues in the less urgent ‘I Can Feel It Coming’ before ‘Neon Morgue’ represents the album’s only real misfire, its chorus bearing a strong melodic resemblance to Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’. It’s unwitting I’m sure but hard to get past. Thankfully, the record instantly finds its feet again with the excellent ‘Home to You’ which is surely a BBC Radio 2 hit in waiting. A great marriage of Ryan Adams tenderness with a pleasing early ‘90s jangle, the song is reminiscent of The Fat Lady Sings at their best. It feeds perfectly into the yearning of album closer ‘The Walls’, with unashamedly prominent keyboard lines and lashings of O’Grady’s atmospheric guitar work ladled onto its grandiose outro.
If you have a soft spot for melodic indie rock of the Celtic variety (think Roddy Hart, think The Frames) and a penchant for warm, earthy vocalists (think Luka Bloom, think Mike Scott) then ‘Matchstick Men’ will be right up your street. Housing eight songs in under thirty-five minutes, it is matchstick-lean but nonetheless it definitely creates a spark.
Review by Rich Barnard.