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The Chap
Well Done Europe Ben Graham , June 10th, 2010 08:27

What to make of The Chap? Sardonic purveyors of post-pop excellence, or one-joke pub bores with a fair grasp of Pro-tools? If the latter, then the joke should be wearing pretty thin by this, their fourth album- fifth if you count 2008's mini-LP of singles and remixes, Builder's Brew. But if there's nothing here as immediately brilliant as 'Proper Rock,' their breakthrough single (of sorts), then there's nothing with quite the potential to swiftly become an irritant, either. The closest candidate, in both cases, is 'Well Done You,' in which multi-tracked vocals deadpan a series of encouraging phrases, such as one might hope to hear in the workplace- "top notch stuff / you've really gone that extra mile"- as the music becomes increasingly queasy. Indeed, the song becomes more unsettling the more you listen to it, and you realise that despite the band's claims that Well Done Europe is their sell-out pop album, this record actually has emotional depths that reveal themselves gradually on repeated plays.

Take the glitchy synth-pop of opening track, 'We'll See To Your Breakdown'. "Pack your bags, go on, goodbye," isn't the most inviting lyric with which to begin an album, but by the time they're repeating the irresistibly catchy chorus of "You will never have a job / you will never have lunch in this town again / we'll see to that cos we hate you," you're either ejecting the CD and following those initial instructions with alacrity, or you're sticking around for the duration regardless.

'Even Your Friend' ups the stakes, managing to simultaneously evoke The Flaming Lips, Jive Bunny, The KLF and Whigfield, like some hideous Pavlovian experiment designed to terminally confuse your pleasure and pain receptors . This schizophrenia is pointed up by the dislocation between the verses - the female narrator wistfully castigating a man she hoped would seduce her at a party, but who went home early instead- and the intentionally dumb, male-voiced chorus, "kids are you ready for the summertime love?", itself subverted by the third-line variation, "with a house and a baby and a summertime love," signalling the lifetime of compromise and disappointment following the holiday fling that's the holy grail of E4 teen-pop.

'We Work In Bars' is simply gorgeous, the rolling acoustic guitars and beats suggesting Saint Etienne brought sharply into focus, with a melancholy chorus in which the archness of the lyrics is a spice to the emotional power of the song, rather than a distraction. 'Obviously,' a treatise on theology and sociology that manages to namecheck Richard Dawkins, Peter Lorre and Shakira, reference Ricky Martin and Madonna, and still conveys a sense of genuine regret, comes on like a silky-smooth hybrid of the Pet Shop Boys and a highbrow Frazier Chorus.

By the time we reach the album's midpoint, and the self-referential 'Nevertheless, The Chap,' it feels like an episode of The Office directed by Gilbert and George. "Melancholy, oh dear / Nevertheless, the Chap / Let's Party, Everyone" the lyrics exhort over seriously deconstructed pop-funk. "Watch the girls go by / and time goes by / and then we die."

"Hauntology, Hypnogogy / Clever clogs terminology," run the lyrics to 'Torpor,' pre-empting any attempt by the likes of The Quietus to get too pretentiously analytical about the record. Suffice to say, then, that despite the more guitar-based tracks on here recalling They Might Be Giants, The Chap are never wacky. The humour is there because this absurdist look at modern culture would be too damn bleak otherwise. And if a song like 'Few Horoscope' can seem as annoyingly bland as anything they may be satirising, then it's a forgivable slip when generally the spare, suggestive structures of music and words complement each other so well that they add up to more than the sum of their parts, going beyond mere cleverness to become genuinely affecting. Well Done, that Chap. You've really really got the hang of it.