The Upshot: Beloved UK outfit serves up an understated but elegant swansong.
BY DAVE STEINFELD
Four and a half years between albums may seem like a lot. But for The Distractions — Manchester’s finest, the great lost band of the New Wave era, etc. — it almost feels like they rushed it out! After all, Nobody’s Perfect, the band’s debut full-length, was released at the dawn of the ‘80s. But their sophomore set, The End of the Pier, didn’t arrive until more than three decades later, in 2012. Now, less than five years on, the quintet’s third and final album is here. The appropriately titled Kindly Leave the Stage is the perfect swan song for The Distractions: concise (10 songs), understated and brimming with a sense of finality.
The Distractions’ story is the stuff of postpunk legend (as we outlined in a 2013 feature). Signed to Island Records around the same time as U2, they released few singles and EPs and, of course, Nobody’s Perfect. But while critically adored, The Distractions never scored a hit and the original band splintered shortly thereafter. Their two key members remain lead singer Mike Finney, and guitarist and main songwriter Steve Perrin. Back in the day, Adrian Wright — also a guitarist and songwriter — was a key part of the band, even penning their best known song, “Time Goes By So Slow.” But Wright disappeared from the music business many years ago. These days, The Distractions are rounded out by second guitarist/songwriter Nick Halliwell (who also owns Occultation Recordings), bassist Arash Torabi and drummer Ian Henderson.
Perrin has said that the key word for Kindly Leave the Stage is “resignation” — and listening to these songs, it’s clear that he isn’t kidding. The sadness that has always been part of The Distractions’ lyrical content has never been more apparent than it is now. While it’s not always clear whether the goodbye that’s being said is to the band, a romantic partner or someone else, that goodbye itself is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt. Indeed, look at the titles of the five songs that comprise the disc’s second half: “Wake Up and Kiss Me Goodbye,” “Nowhere,” “The Connection’s Dropped Again,” “Tell Them I’m Not Here” and “The End of the Pier” (which, in Led Zeppelin-esque fashion, did not appear on the previous album despite its title!). That would be about the only thing The Distractions’ music has in common with Zeppelin though, apart from the fact that it was made in England. The songs here barely qualify as rock; though the pace does pick up on tracks like “Last to Leave” and the aforementioned, baroque-pop “Wake Up and Kiss Me Goodbye,” the vast majority of these songs are ballads. Simple, haunting melodies couch lyrics about sleepless nights and aborted conversations. Even more than on The End of the Pier, there’s a tangible sense of time running out here. On “Nowhere,” The Distractions even reference their own past: “I know we used to think that time went by so slow/But now there’s nothing left to do and there’s nowhere left to go.”
The album’s opener, “A Few Miles More,” is one of the band’s best songs ever — a gently propulsive track that sounds familiar the first time you hear it. The prettiest moment is probably “What the Night Does,” a lovely song on which Halliwell proves that Perrin isn’t the only adept songwriter in the band. While I initially wished they would rock a bit more (the Nobody’s Perfect-era Distractions could show off their punk roots when they wanted to, as on songs like “Paracetamol Paralysis” and “Untitled”), the more you listen to this album, the more it makes sense that it doesn’t. With Finney’s distinct voice and the band’s ghostly harmonies, this still sounds like The Distractions — but they’ve evolved and they intended Kindly Leave the Stage to be an epitaph of sorts. And in the end, it succeeds. Its songs are of one piece and best listened to at night. Well done, guys; thanks for the memories.
DOWNLOAD: “A Few Miles More,” “What the Night Does,” “The End of the Pier”