For the past few years now Fred have been operating in some sort of twilight world. Whilst they have managed to elbow their way into the mainstream media with a series of bright and shiny singles, success on the same level as The Blizzards, The Coronas or even Delorentos (all of whom they can easily match in the accessibility stakes) has eluded them, while the ‘serious’ critics have proved largely ambivalent to the more experimental side of their charms. It’s a problem that they haven’t come across in Canada – where everyone loves them it seems – and so it’s no surprise maybe that their fourth album sees them decamp across the Atlantic to Montreal, and the iconic Hotel2Tango studio of producer Howard Bilerman no less.
If last album Go God Go was an open love letter to the world of pop, then Leaving My Empire would suggest that the band have slightly weightier issues on their mind. It’s a very ‘Montreal’ sounding record from the off, a lot less glossy than its predecessor and with a more in common with their second album Making Music So You Don’t Have To. What hasn’t changed is their ability to write a winning tune. The album is full of them, although the first half is reasonably coy about revealing its delights. Dealing in subtle brushstrokes, the low key production makes you think that the material is less effective than it actually is and that Fred have gone all dark on us.
You can’t keep a good pop band down, however, and the second half of Leaving My Empire explodes into a burst of Technicolor glory. The songs are stuffed full of ooohs and aaahs as that old radio friendly persona re-emerges. Yet this time, under Bilerman’s watchful gaze, the balance between over and underground is maintained perfectly – ‘Fears And Remedies’ is the sound of a disco in an anarchist squat. The art of being all things to all people is more than often looked down on, seen as a question of searching for the lowest common denominator. With Leaving My Empire, Fred have proved the opposite. It’s a record that will appeal as much to your whistling dairy deliverer as your cooler than cool younger brother. Here’s hoping that people start to listen.
Listen to the album here.