CD Review: Vanilla Swingers – Vanilla Swingers

It’s very rare that you come across a debut album that’s as confident and well-rounded as that of Vanilla Swingers, a duo comprising Anne Gilpin and Miles Jackson whose eponymous effort is a concept album, no less. But don’t let that put you off because it’s a damn fine concept album, one where the songs all serve to advance the plot but also stand up in their own right when taken out of the context of the story they seek to tell.

The story is of two lovers who escape their dead end town for the bright lights of London, travel back in time to 1985, split up and meet again 30 years later in 2015. Musically the album swings from acoustic ballads to chilled electro-pop with great ease and, coupled with the excellent and detailed lyrics, the general vibe is that of the low rent metropolitan romanticism that the likes of Jack, Pulp and Band of Holy Joy have pedalled to great effect in the past. Another obvious reference point is Black Box Recorder. Gilpin’s voice is a dead ringer for BBR’s Sarah Nixey – which is surprising since she’s from Belfast –  and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve put the wrong CD in when you first hear tracks like “Danger In The Past” or “Goodbye Lennon”.

The album kicks off with the low-key “The Town” which does its job in setting the scene before the excellent “Like Straw Dogs”, which starts off at a similar pace to its predecessor but picks up halfway through and ends with a terrific guitar workout. There’s more good guitar work in “I’ll Stay Next To You”‘s simple but extremely effective riff, but the song, probably my favourite on the album, throws a curveball near the end and morphs into a pretty decent “West End Girls” pastiche – a clever precursor for the trip back to 1985 that occurs in “The Hive”, the sprawling 8 minute album centrepiece that follows. “The Hive” shifts and changes and even goes a bit proggy towards the end as the protagonists arrive in 1985 and take advantage of their journey to the past, getting to see The Smiths and spending time at the bookies.

“Danger In The Past” is a fine slice of electro-pop that owes a debt to the Pet Shop Boys and would be an obvious choice for a lead single. On the post break-up song “The Way She Walked Out The Door” the duo stop trading lines and give the song over to Band of Holy Joy’s Johny Brown, who also wrote the lyrics, in what is another brilliant move: the song recalls Brown’s band at the height of their powers in the late Eighties and breaks the album, and the couple, up nicely. They meet up again in “Goodbye Lennon”, another slice of classy electro-balladry set in 2015 where “Robbie’s dead but Pete’s alive”.

There’s enough in the way of great tunes, melodrama and surprises on Vanilla Swingers to keep you going back for more and it would be a great shame if it doesn’t reach the wider audience it deserves. It is available on CD from Rough Trade for just £4.99, albeit in a limited run of 1000, and as a free download here.

Vanilla Swingers – Like Straw Dogs

Vanilla Swingers – Goodbye Lennon

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