The weather is hot enough to warrant sharing the front pages of the tabloids with the latest non-news about Euro 2004 and Morrissey’s desire for merry olde England to wave the flag of St George in joyous harmony together seems closer than ever. What better time to listen to an album about ‘the routine cruelty men and women inflict upon each other without even realising it’ then? Ah, it’s grim up north - and there are few places more grim or northern than Sunderland, home of The Golden Virgins.
Not that you’d suspect anything as the album lulls you in with the calm, carousel-style instrumental opener, Waltz Of Praise, but then singer Lucas Renney launches into Shadows Of Your Love with “Well fuck you, love, and fare thee well”. It’s immediately clear that Renney has had heart ripped out and shat upon with the best of us, and there’s a constant air of bitterness and spite that pervades Songs Of Praise, rendering the title creepily sarcastic.
Light In Her Window comes over like Elvis Costello singing a slightly disturbed ballad to the tune of Blur’s Sing as Renney veers across the thin line between harmless longing from afar and a stalker’s obsession, whilst Staying Sober sees him do anything but as he slides into an alcoholic depressive haze after a break-up. He soon tops both with Never Had A Prayer, which appears to merely be a maudlin take on rejection until he reveals his true resentment with the pay-off line “You’re gonna get yours; I hope you get yours soon”.
There are, however, some cracking upbeat songs on here too. The Thought Of Her and Renaissance Kid remember a time when The Senseless Things had killer tunes to match their cool Jamie Hewlett sleeves and I Am A Camera follows the fine and Dandy (Warhol) model of bringing Duran Duran’s pop nous to the indie masses. I Want To Believe You sets Renney’s bleak tale of not trusting a philandering partner to large chunks of Harvey Danger’s fantastic Flagpole Sitta, which I can only salute.
Album closer, I Don’t Want No-One But You, revisits the fairground waltz that opens the record and transforms it into a tender declaration of unrequited love, but the highlight comes just before. We’ll Never Be Friends is the kind of simple but highly affecting acoustic number that Noel Gallagher used to excel at in Oasis’ early days; a lovelorn lament for an ex filled with twinkling xylophone’s and honest, heartfelt emotion. It might not seem like the ideal time of year for this album but, if you get dumped for watching too much football during the next month, these ‘Songs Of Praise’ might just save your life. Hallelujah!