After co-fronting one of the most notoriously filthy bands of the last few years, it makes sense that Saul Adamczewski has sonically relocated to the 70s and 80s. They’re strange decades in retrospect; what was once seen as camp and garish now feels dirty after Yewtree, the bright colours and pantomime antics overcompensating for hidden filth. Pilfering the soundtrack of recently uncovered corruption, home to an otherwise innocent youth for most, Insecure Men are playfully provocative. They dare listeners to call their self-titled debut sordid in the face of dreamlike exotica-pop.
‘Subaru Nights’ is the pastel-pink muzak opener with gentle, deadpan vocals floating above ambient synths and imitating childish lullabies. Grounded by drum loops and tribal shouts, it’s a package holiday in an ersatz-paradise spent sipping cocktails (let’s be honest, sambuca shots) and ignoring nagging feelings of forgery. The best tracks sit in the uncanny valley of retro pop, close enough to make out vague references but too distant to clarify the details. Occasionally, snatches of Pet Shop Boys collide with Devo, plumped by the cinematic strings of ELO, but those moments are just that: sketches. Distinct reference points are always on the sidelines – Insecure Men are unique.
Amongst the most challenging tracks is ‘Whitney Houston and I’, a song from the perspective of the late diva’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown spent exploring parallels between the pair’s deaths against a child’s choir and cascading church bells. Combining lounging, tropical elevator music with pompous and overblown grandiose flourishes has a disarming effect. As the naive obsession with the illicit lingers over its unnervingly comforting tones, suggestions of allegory begin to shine through. Could the eponymous pair reflect Adamczewski’s strained relationship with fellow Fat Whites frontman Lias Saoudi? The taboo topics act as a deterrent and a defence mechanism, and allows Insecure Men to address more personal experiences from a distance. ‘Teenage Toy’ started life as an ode to a young girlfriend, but its hook (‘teenage toy, teenage toy, messing around with the older boys’) could easier mirror Adamczewski’s early entry into the music industry and exposure to its darker, drug-addled corners.
Carving out a corner in modern-day exotica and mining the musical past for easy references to corrupted youth, Insecure Men could have been a disaster. Instead, strong songs wallow lazily in lusciously arranged soundscapes. Sleazy topics are thrown against warm and inviting pop and in the process, most of it sticks. There’s even room for a quick kiss goodbye to the Fat Whites’ infamously bombed Disneyland on ‘Cliff Has Left The Building’. As for the posed challenge to listeners? It’s hard to fault the duo for anything other than dousing an album of left-field, wonky retro-pop perfection in a tirade of radio-unfriendly lyrics. Despite their debut’s melancholy, Insecure Men should be very confident indeed.
INSECURE MEN IS RELEASED THIS FRIDAY (23/2). PRE-ORDER HERE: