Scottish post-punk outfit We Were Promised Jetpacks’ fifth album ‘Enjoy the View’ is many things at once: A quiet rumination on past relationships, a strain of optimism for the future, an ode to open-road guitar music and a nod to the band’s best-known, angular musicianship and intense live shows.
by guest writer Beau Hayhoe
Stream: ‘Enjoy the View’ – We Were Promised Jetpacksexcer
We Were Promised Jetpacks have been busy during the pandemic, turning last year’s initial lockdown into songs that appear on Enjoy the View, out today (September 10, 2021) on Big Scary Monsters. It’s an album with lots to say, and one that adds another layer of complexity to the band’s fast-maturing catalog. Enjoy the View is the group’s second release for Big Scary Monsters, developed in spurts from March to June of last year before the band began to put down ideas live in its practice space in Edinburgh.
It’s also notable in another way: It’s the first We Were Promised Jetpacks LP without guitarist Michael Palmer, who announced his amicable departure in the summer of 2019. The result is a leaner, musically engaging record that plays into the group’s strengths (emotional lyrics and crisp production set atop tight drumming and tighter guitar work) without feeling like something’s missing.
Even without one of its regular players, there’s more than meets the eye here coming from a band best known for deeply emotional post-punk anthems (songs like “Quiet Little Voices” and “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning”). Those songs are both fan favorites usually sung with enough passion to give you goosebumps at a live show, but fans of the newfound trio will welcome new tracks and a new approach in the meantime, one imagines.
Enjoy the View has all the hallmarks of that same band, but it’s fuller, it’s more diverse, and it sounds bigger than just a trio in the studio.
Would any of these songs slot into live concert setlist space typically reserved for the group’s biggest hits? That remains to be seen, but some tracks, like “Fat Chance,” certainly have a fair shot.
“Fat Chance” is a newfound anthem that’s oddly optimistic, carried by the opening line “It doesn’t matter where you started/it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from/It only matters where you’re going,” delivered with gusto by lead singer Adam Thompson.
The idea of having a “fat chance” at succeeding, it turns out, can always swing in your favor, as Thompson notes on the album’s second track (and arguable centerpiece) that he “did a complete 180/Now I’m going the right way.”
The sentiment that “All the lights have changed from red to green” is one that listeners might find a useful adage, a way of looking both behind in the rearview mirror and forward on the road ahead at the same time.
It’s reassuring and hopeful, with the kind of sonic beauty that instantly hooks you.
This is an album that, ultimately, delivers more bang for your buck than plenty of records on the market: Its ten songs cruise by smoothly and clock in at well under an hour, but there’s lots to unpack. Right from the start, it’s also clear that the band has developed and changed, emotionally and musically, along with its audience.
Opener “Not Me Anymore” will enchant fans of futuristic, modern-era Bon Iver or even the indie folk-electronica outfit Big Red Machine – it’s not a comparison one might expect when thinking of the surging, sharp post-punk riffs for which We Were Promised Jetpacks is typically known.
“All That Glittered” is heavier and more distinctly in the wheelhouse of the Scottish band, with massive drums, a spiky and sinister riff, a booming bass line and vocals that slither and slide. Thompson asks “How could you walk away when there’s so much left to say?” and later notes that “all that glittered” wasn’t golden.
Anyone who’s spent time looking to the past across the last year, perhaps wearing rose-colored glasses and yearning for someone who’s not there, can surely relate.
“Don’t Hold Your Breath” downshifts, almost imploring the listener to catch their breath after the propulsive “All That Glittered.” It’s the eye of the storm, a moment of sonic respite for about a minute, before it whisks the listener away with churning drums and an inspired effort from Darren Lackie behind the kit. Guitars weave seamlessly and shimmer atop Lackie’s multi-faceted performance, which will sound familiar to fans who loved 2018’s The More I Sleep The Less I Dream (the song would likely fit nicely on that LP, and that’s a very good thing indeed).
The result is a highlight of the album, and one that’s got serious potential to become a live staple when the band does hit the road next spring.
“What I Know Now” is another spot-on refrain looking back on a relationship, and it’s especially relatable among those who’ve had time on their hands to reflect and reconsider years gone by, parts good and bad. It’s an impressive example of how We Were Promised Jetpacks blend emotional refrains with rich, layered sonic landscapes, featuring an especially soaring bit of guitar through the final minute-and-a-half.
“If It Happens” kicks off with a bang, a rising wall of guitars that immediately calls to mind a thrilling wave of bright lights at a packed concert (2022 can’t get here soon enough). Lackie’s determined drumming moves the song forward speedily, helped along by bright, warm synths and an irresistible hook.
Thompson brings home the LP’s title when he sings, “All I wanna do is get high and enjoy the view,” an escape to nature certainly sounds mighty tempting these days.
The core of the crisply produced, effortlessly clear song is simple enough: Moving parts working in harmony can be a beautiful thing. It’s another album highlight, one that also manages to work in zigzagging guitar near the end of the track.
As to enjoying the view? “If It Happens” is best listened to when enjoying, perhaps, a setting sun or a shimmering coastline.
The album’s nostalgic quality surges forward with the anthemic, positively colossal “I Wish You Well,” another track that delights in showing you just how massive and rich-sounding a trio can be.
Listen closely and you’ll even hear snippets of sound that call to mind the Scottish Highlands. The rest of the track is enough to make you want to raise a pint in a nod to the complexity of life’s pitfalls and triumphs.
The album is packed with plenty of tracks for every taste, including the stop-and-start, blues-y strummer “Blood, Sweat, Tears.” It’s got a bold and big chorus, and the guitar work calls to mind Cold War Kids, another veteran band in the world of guitar-driven music.
The album’s final third cruises along breezily and in a flash, thanks to the lean, sharp guitars of “Nothing Ever Changes” — again, it’s another fine example of how much sound one can wring out of guitar and drums, with production rendering each effect and note clear as day.
The best way to describe Enjoy the View might be that it’s got plenty of tracks that call to mind, well, sitting back and taking in a beautiful landscape.
That includes the album’s closer on the LP, “Just Don’t Think About It,” another change of pace on an album full of them. The lush, quiet song is mature and considered, not unlike songs found on 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack, by the similarly propulsive (and sorely missed) Frightened Rabbit. Certainly, this isn’t a bad thing at all.
As with the group’s last record, Enjoy the View provides a deep, nuanced listening experience that signals a band growing with each release.
For fans who’ve been around since the beginning, and for fans who’ve lately been inspired to revisit We Were Promised Jetpacks’ catalog during the pandemic, the latest LP offers up an outlook that’s many things at once: Reflective, poignant, battle-hardened, sunny at times, richly layered and infinitely interesting.
It’s a rewarding listen to welcome a new season, one that’ll keep you coming back to enjoy the view.
Beau Hayhoe is a Brooklyn-based writer covering music, menswear, whiskey, craft beer and more. His writing has appeared at sites like Esquire, Maxim, InsideHook and The Line of Best Fit. His favorite band is The National. When not writing, he can be found enjoying a Brooklyn beer or poring over crate after crate of vinyl records.
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? © Euan Robertson
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