Death from Above 1979 swagger back into your life like that former lover you swore you’d gotten over years previously. You thought ‘yeah, that’s cool, good for them’ when they announced they were playing music again, but you genuinely weren’t convinced. You went back to listening to The Black Keys and secretly viewing live performances from way back when on Youtube in the dark when you thought no-one was looking. Then, boom – in they stride, and you’re the same weak-kneed simpleton you were in 2004.
Ten years is a long time. The bare-cheeked audacity. They still have the nerve to be as hot (if not hotter) as when they left you hanging and hollowed out, a mere husk. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It’s all going to end in tears. Again. And yet, somehow, in the back of your mind, stored in the crate marked ‘do not open’ the lid prizes off and you convince yourself all is going to be well again. It’s going to be like it was. You link hands and jump in. You fool.
‘Cheap Talk’ purrs from the get go, all disco drums and distorted, pulsing bass lines. A synth progression murmurs in the background, making you forget the fact this is only, at the heart of it, drums, bass and words. The lyrics in the opening number are a theme throughout the record – words are cheap when you don’t have the moves to pull it off.
‘Virgins” chorus call of “where have all the virgins gone” is a time-travelling verse of regret and misspent youth and sports a riff that Royal Blood would take years to muster, just thrown casually in for good measure.
It’s not all bombastic basslines and sexual imagery, though. ‘White is Red’ sags in the middle; the ideas are there but it seems to lull. It’s one of the longest tracks on the album and whilst not altogether awful, it definitely seems to blemish The Physical World. Lead single ‘Trainwreck 1979’ brings everything back to fulltempo and the all-round fervour of the record is restored. The song has been doing the rounds on Radio 1/6music/XFM rock shows and playlists but it doesn’t really matter. When your most radio friendly song still has the weight of a ten tonne freight train behind it, you should by all means be able to release everything and anything you want.
Title track ‘The Physical World’ begins with a chiptune keyboard intro, then stage-dives headlong into a prog-metal-punk-opera masterpiece. Three different time signatures and an outro riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cradle of Filth LP, it lingers at the back, the weight of expectation proudly bearing across its ginormous shoulders.
So, the record’s only fault is that it has been ten-years in the making. Punk’s Chinese Democracy. If things had been different, oh how different they would have been. All we can do is look back longingly and hope – maybe this is the beginning of a brave new world? Or maybe they’ll disappear once more, leaving us to play with our Pitbulls and folk bands and wonder: what if? Paul Malik