“WOOOOOOAAAAARGH! GNAAAAAAAH! BLEEEEEEEURGH!” If you’re one of those people who finds Kelly Jones’ “I eat gravel, me” voice about as aesthetically appealing as nails on a blackboard, you’ll loathe this album. If on the other hand you like driving like a maniac and bellowing at the top of your lungs to whatever’s on the stereo then Performance and Cocktails is probably the best thing you’ll hear all year.
Rock – and heavy rock in particular – is, of course, desperately uncool. And the Stereophonics are a desperately uncool band. Their songs are short and to the point – this is no OK Computer – and lyrics are about the minutiae of day-to-day life rather than any Big Themes. They don’t take themselves particularly seriously, either. Of all the bands who say “we do what we do and if anyone else likes it, well, that’s a bonus” you suspect the ‘Phonics are the only ones who actually mean it, bless ’em.
Performance and Cocktails expertly bypasses difficult second album syndrome by doing exactly what the first album did, except faster and louder. Kicking off with the Metallica-gone-dance of “Roll Up and Shine” we’re firmly in the land of big voices, big guitars and big choruses – songs custom-built to be hollered in football grounds by drunken romantics. “The Bartender and the Thief” zooms past in a hotwired Escort Cosworth, scaring pensioners and flicking v-signs at the traffic cops before crashing into the slow-burning “Hurry Up And Wait”, Placebo’s “Pure Morning” on downer pills.
There are a few duff songs, like the “it’s the Manics! It’s the Manics!” baggy beats of “Pick A Part That’s New”, “A Minute Longer”‘s uncanny Rod Stewart vocal or the descending minor chords of “T-Shirt Sun Tan”. There are a lot of Big Choruses on the album, though, not least “I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio” which is obscenely catchy. Jones writes in the sleevenotes that he “woke about four in the morning with Ringo Starr and George Harrison singing this tune in my head”; thankfully he abandoned his original plan of getting the drummer to sing it. Similarly “Just Looking” will keep the manufacturers of disposable lighters in business once the band go on tour.
The best songs on the album, though, are the ones where the band drop the rock bombast and let a little more light and shade filter through the songs. “She Takes Her Clothes Off” revisits the same bleak territory as the first album’s “Local Boy In The Photograph”, this time describing the suicide of an ageing stripper. The combination of Jones’ voice and sketchy lyrics is poignant rather than mawkish or hectoring – the thought of the same song in the hands of someone like Phil Collins is too terrifying to contemplate. The gorgeous final track, “I Stopped To Fill My Car Up”, contains the lyrical detail you’ve come to expect then moves into serial killer territory. As the music darkens Jones cheerfully sticks the knife in and admits that “I made this story up to get your attention, it makes me smile”.
The album does veer alarmingly close to AOR mediocrity on a few occasions, particularly on “Half The Lies You Tell Ain’t True” which sounds like a slow Faces track rather than a young rock band on their second record. But it’s a minor quibble when the album ends and you realise that you’ve been gurning and playing air guitar for 50 minutes.