Total Victory – National Service (2012)

Total Victory are a band having their cake and eating it. Delicately walking a balance between shiny accessibility and standing on a soapbox, they provide enough on their 2012 National Service to please a healthy cross-section.

The sound is built on sharp, fluid guitar and bouncy, buoyant bass. Possible comparisons may be other post punk inheritors as White Lies, Editors, but mainly the originals who shall be mentioned in due course. As the album continues the music grows more groove orientated. The influence of motorik and punk grows increasingly apparent. This is an album of two halves and sequenced perfectly. So much so I’m wondering if some light weights may be lost on the way…

Daniel Brookes’ vocals and lyrics are maybe the best thing on display. In an almost accent-less voice he opines and ponders, critiques and hold court. It’s like a mish-mash of Terry Hall, Mark E Smith, Jarvis Cocker and Gang Of Four’s Jon King with the occasional quip worthy of Nigel Blackwell.  Offering a wide array of social critiques presented in a clear, almost monotone manner he is great proof that less is more, much more.

Thanks to the lyrics each song has its own character and offer a wealth of food for thought. I already know I’ll still be contemplating some of the gems offered here for years to come. It’s rare to see a modern singer putting such thought into not just what he is saying, but what he has to say. This is an album where you are left eager for a lyrics sheet.

Let’s look at some of the key moments:

‘Churchbuilder’ starts with an intro of plaintiff piano before rolling out the chiming 80s guitars. It all sounds fairly radio friendly, the sort of thing you could hear playing in the local trendy Hummus bar.  However, the first chorus you hear alerts you that proceedings may not be as cosy as you first thought:

The natural order: the son kills the father
But the father killed the son
The father killed the son
The order was reversed and the father killed the sun

‘Secession Day’ has a smooth rolling gait while Brookes spins a story of a small town’s misguided quest for independence that could be a Glastonbury friendly variant of The Fall’s ‘The NWRA’ or about 25% of Half Man Half Biscuit’s back catalogue.

Just after 1pm they renamed the town
And raised a new flag inside the market
Wrote a new national song
Designed new national clothes
And ate new national food

Listen to ‘Secession Day’

‘Holy Cross’ has a great groove not a million miles away from the realm of Alternative TV with stark guitars dropping in occasionally. A stripped down combination of vocals and bass works perfectly. Over 6 minutes the song grinds out a heady 4/4 stomp. Like steadily chugging a couple of pints of Guinness this is bold, heady stuff.

Listen to ‘Holy Cross’

‘Advice For Men’ is great stuff, inverting Gang Of Four’s anti love song ‘Anthrax’ with a spoken word set of instructions and guidelines. Honest, useful and a long way away from the usual post Lad Rock cock o’ the walk toss-baggery.

I know the sounds obvious
But it’s easy to fall into the trap
Of only meeting women in bars
Here’s the ugly truth: less than 5% of men
Will meet a girl in a bar

Weren’t expecting that were you?

‘King Of Discipline’ is where the band really embraces the inner Gang Of Four with an extended, almost psychedelic march of guitars while Brookes finally loses his cool and starts throwing out a chain of words, leaving the listener to fit the pieces together themselves. Then he starts screaming the killer chorus of ‘I am the king… of discipline’. The album ends with the whole band singing the  following which links us back to the title of the album:

It’s war
Disarm me
And put me in the army

Meanwhile ‘Reverse Formation’ is a bit more of a straightforward indie disco tune. ‘Venn Diagram’ is mid album instrumental sounding vaguely kratrock-ish. By the end of ‘What The Body Wants The Body Gets’ the song has dissolved into the defeated dirge of Joy Division’s Closer from what started as an aggressive Gang Of Four clarion call. Or what about the stomping title track offering spiralling guitar and slanted social satire:

18 year old,
3 D’s at A Level.
Do you think there are prospects for your television career?

Total Victory are provocative and bold while never losing sight of the need for a catchy melody or a crunching groove. Continuing the lyrical and musical traditions of many of Britain’s finest bands yet with a strict and forceful sense of their own unique identity, Total Victory have delivered a stunning album with Nation Service. They’re not only keeping the flame alive but fanned into a beacon.

Lyrics quoted with kind permission

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