Boston Manor have set the tone for their new album Welcome to the Neighbourhood as a dark one, with huge singles “Halo” and “Bad Machine” laying the foundations for the dystopian wasteland that the band says the album takes place in. When talking about the upcoming album, band members have said that the world Welcome to the Neighbourhood exists in is an apologetically bleak one. A world rife with poverty and drug addiction, boarded up shops, and a population unable to escape a predicament they didn’t even know they were in.
With this description of it going around the pressers and personally speaking about it in my interview with vocalist Henry Cox (coming soon), I was excited by the chance to get my hands on the album and get stuck into a track by track review, looking at the story I’ve interpreted from it, as well as the music itself. Boston Manor are Henry Cox (vocals), Ash Wilson (guitar), Dan Cunniff (bass), Mike Cunniff (guitar), and Jordan Pugh (drums).
Establishing the atmosphere immediately, album opener “Welcome To The Neighbourhood” is a well-written and grim piece, commenting on the failing society that the band are trying to establish. Literally welcoming the listener, they lay the foundations for this world that they are creating, and give a first taste of what is to come.
“Welcome to the neighbourhood. If you could leave, you would.”
While listening, it’s as if we are surrounded by poverty, living in horrid conditions and overwhelmed by the obscene cruelties going on around you. The digitised synths and echoing vocals create a sense of dystopia, as you are almost forced into picturing a post-apocalyptic version of our current world through the imagery it creates. Dark tones of sound mixing with pained vocals reinforce this feeling of helplessness. Futuristic yet distant, the song is observing as well as accepting. Commenting on the world they’re in, through the lyrics they say that this is how it is, and although they’d leave if they could, they can’t, so are needing to adapt. Boston Manor are essentially setting down the lore for this world that they’ve created for this album, and “Welcome To The Neighbourhood” is an essential pre-cursor to the entire album to come.
“Flowers In Your Dustbin” continues the atmospherically heavy mood, yet makes the instrumentals more prominent, keeping them as the centrepiece of Boston Manor’s sound. The guitar licks echo through your ears, combining with the synth type effects to take this complex combination of sounds to a whole new level. It seems like there is a lot going on already with these songs, and everything sounds massive.
Appearing to come from the perspective of a younger generation in this Welcome to the Neighbourhood universe, “Flowers In Your Dustbin” speaks of being promised the world and getting nothing. Growing up, we are always told how many amazing things we are going to do, and how the world will be ours. Yet when it comes down to it we all just end up being cogs in the machine that is the commercial world. A victim of society, they sit in the dark and think about what could have been, and as such avoid the outside world completely.
“I’m a victim of a new regime. I was promised gold by a silver screen.”
One of my highlight tracks of 2018, “Halo” is an incredible song. As dark as can be, it inspires impressive imagery, and makes the mind wander to places unknown. The constant high hat hits and revving background guitars follow that huge glistening intro perfectly, and lead into the chorus in a way that makes it sound like it should be getting played in stadiums. Dancing as well as singing, the wounding vocals make it hard not to singalong, and the catchiness of “Halo” is overwhelming.
It also continues through this world the album has created, and although it may be different to what the band intended, I am seeing an overrunning story so far. With “Halo”, it seems as if the person is injecting themselves relief, in an effort to get away from this awful world they live in. They float away, as the rolling guitars and exclamation of “Just a quick fix and I’ll get clean!” prompts them into a state of flashing lights, flashing colours, and takes them away from reality.
Next is “England’s Dreaming”, which is a slow but hard hitting mood-filled song. The vocals throughout seem wounded, as if Henry is in pain as he sings. The guitars and bass overwhelm the chorus, but not in a bad way, as the entire sound being thrown at you seems like it is bleeding; it is aching, and suffering, as every note sung and every snare drum hit is another knife to the heart.
“Honey, I can’t stay awake, cause England’s dreaming.”
With the lyrics for this song being how they are, in my mind the story carries on. Waking up from the events of “Halo”, the speaker barely knows where they are (“I don’t think that I recognise this crazy world I’m in”). Back in the real world, they are a shadow of their former selves. They’ve been worn down by the new way of survival, and they almost don’t want to keep on living in this world that they’re in. The entire sound of every individual instrument combining with the digitised backing matches this as well, and combined it inspires imagery involving suffering, while the lyrics tell the story behind that suffering.
Carrying on with the heavier digitisation in the background, “Funeral Party” kicks off with moody vocals and synth heavy backings, making for an intensity filled track. With the enigmatic stringy guitar work, this song could fit nicely onto the soundtrack of a horror movie, as I can perfectly imagine someone getting murdered to this! Getting past that, the drums are extra enjoyable here, with rapid fills and hard hitting beats adding to the frantic and insecure mood of it all. Everything comes together to craft a fantastic song to say the least, and I’m noticing more and more how well constructed every track on this album has been.
Continuing on in this dystopian landscape, it appears to lyrically take the mindset of a younger person being held back by society. They are getting drowned in the surrounding mindset of conformity. Constantly being told what to do and how to live their lives, creativity is dying, and this is the funeral of freedom. The urge to break out of the norm is overwhelming, as the intensity of the vocals and the dark combination of sounds hammer home the message of the song.
“Falling and I can’t slow down. In a hole with no way out.”
“Digital Ghost” feels like it is straight out of a Blade Runner film soundtrack; very electronic, very technical, and very futuristic. The slow verses feature Henry Cox’s vocals at their best, as the melodies sync with the distant seeming background instrumentals. The chorus picks up the pace, and continues that pattern for the rest of the song. The guitars lie in the background as if they are trying to be discreet, yet hold up the entire song and make the atmosphere feel as huge as it does. I can see this song being belted out by live audiences, as every snare hit is another fist thrust in the air, and every chorus sung is another wave of people climbing over each other and singing along.
The feeling that “Digital Ghost” instills is special; continuing to create the imagery and storytelling of this suffering dystopian wasteland. Forced to share in their regret and helplessness, the listener joins Boston Manor in looking up at what is left of the sun. Standing beside them, we hear woeful thoughts of people they left behind. All they have left are digital memories. The photos on phones and computers and messages sent are all virtual bullets to the heart and brutal reminders of the past. They seek to find something in this world that they can love, it has been so long since they were able to feel that. Even in this bleak world that they are in, it still comes back to love, and how essential it can be to recovering happiness through the worst of times.
“Love’s so fucking beautiful.”
The word I keep coming back to is ‘atmosphere’. And that’s because no other word suits these songs any better. Every song inspires an incredible sense of imagination and creativity. Even if they were stripped back to instrumentation alone, these songs would still express an emotive and intense story.
“Tunnel Vision” is a perfect example of this, with the first 40 seconds or so being some of the most intriguing music I have heard in a long time. This is followed by some strong rock instrumentals and solid vocals, leading into a huge catchy chorus. Slightly faster paced than other songs on the album, “Tunnel Vision” continues the dark and emotional vibe that runs throughout, telling another story and expressing the pain that comes with it perfectly. The dark tone of the guitars and bass matches the mood as it speaks of a failing relationship: One person’s overwhelming ego and failure to open themselves up has ruined everything, and because of this the other person is suffering. They have intense regret, as expressed in the bridge, and now loneliness is dominating their daily emotions. Wondering if it is just them, or if everyone feels this way, they continue to doubt reality and pray that they are dreaming.
This story carries on into “Bad Machine”, where the music continues to instill in you that feeling of loss and regret. The atmosphere is at its most intense in this song, as the pace drops to the bare necessities. The guitars rev through the verses, combining with the bruised vocals and digital backing to paint a picture of a world of pain. Slowly and surely, the words leak out of Henry’s mouth like it’s hurting him to say each one, building on the moody foundations already laid. The guitars screech through the background of the choruses and the bridge, adding a sense of insanity to the already pained mood of the song. Luckily this increasing feeling of losing your mind comes with constant snare drum hits, each of which snaps you back to reality and reminds you where you are.
Picking up after “Tunnel Vision”, “Bad Machine” speaks of a lover of the past. Moving on, all they want is to be free of the demons from the past. Memories replay again and again in their mind, voices echoing and stinging them to their core. This whole thing is like a dream, as this sense of hurt doesn’t seem like it can be real. Getting back to where they were before seems as though it is thousands of miles away, as they can’t imagine a world where they are happy again. All they see around them is poverty and suffering, and when that is the case it is hard to smile.
“If I Can’t Have It Then No One Can” picks it up, and has a sense of blind arrogance about it. Straight into the hard verses and rocky choruses, the instrumentals combine to form a punk rock edginess. Everything seems more confident, and I believe that that is what they were trying to portray, through the lyrics as well as the instrumentals.
The lyrics are odd for this song, as it almost appears to be a track full of shit-talk: Full of arrogance and blinded self obsession, all the speaker is doing is talking themselves up. “I always get my way so don’t you ever question me, and don’t fuck with a man as big as me.”
With this it seems to be a attempt to look at everything through the eyes of one of the world’s leaders. Even in the resulting darkened world described in Welcome to the Neighbourhood, they are still stuck so far up their own arses, and don’t think about anyone besides themselves. The blind arrogance and self-belief spoken about in these lyrics couldn’t refer to anything or anyone else, and although I know this wasn’t meant to be a big political album, I feel this could certainly be a dig at certain politicians.
You can understand in the neighbourhood there is a lot of frustration going around, and “Hate You” releases all of that anger. Tom hits and rocky drum fills count us in, and the accompanying guitars and vocals lead us into a big aching chorus. Your entire body bops back and forth, as the catchiness is overpowering and your hips can’t resist. After this comes the intensity, as the anger starts to show itself. Everything gets harder, and faster, and the hate inspiring the song rears its ugly head.
“I hate you. You hate me. Let’s set fire to the street.”
“Hate You” lyrically is especially intriguing.. It appears to be written in regards to the world that Boston Manor have expertly crafted so far, and could be a hate filled open letter to the society they know. They despise everything that this world has become, and want it to burn. This in particular is a very blunt and negative view at the state of things right now, yet fits very well with the tone of the album and is crafted in a way that it isn’t fully obvious in what it is about, which is pretty neat.
“FY1” is 1 minute and 8 seconds of really cool sounds, in that it isn’t really music as much as it is sound effects that come together in an awesome way. With digital and intricate technical effects, the track could be right at home on Black Mirror. Short and sweet, the track wakes you up a bit and brings you back to that same awesome atmosphere, right in time for the final two songs.
The penultimate track, “Stick Up” leads in with soft moody synth, and kicks in with fast rocky instrumentals. Guitars screech briefly through the background before the vocals kick in and bring you back to consciousness. Fighting for survival, the desperation of the vocals flows with the ever moving instrumentals to send a frantic feeling through your bones and make you shiver.
Starved and parched, the character who is living in this world is fighting their final battle against the demons running this dystopian society. They’ve tried to take everything from them. As they try once more to finish them off they fight back. They stop being the victim and become the one in charge. They turn the gun on them and take back everything. They take over, and they take control. The succession of this can be heard in the lyrics and through the raising intensity of the song. To me, “Stick Up” puts a closing chapter on the neighbourhood, as the final song doesn’t seem to relate to the rest of the album at all.
“The Day That I Ruined Your Life” is an emotional slow song. It is vocally heavy, and also features huge moody guitar work, seeming to speak of preparing for the death of a loved one. As they know the end is coming soon, they try to do everything they can to memorise every detail of the face of this person. Every line is written in a way that could pull a tear from your eye on every listen. I won’t spoil it, because it needs to be heard to be fully appreciated, and there is no possible way the emotion of this song could be put into words. It is a huge finish to an unbelievable album, and is one of the highlight tracks for sure.
Welcome to the Neighbourhood is incredibly well-written. This album certainly made me feel things, and listening through it in it’s entirety for me was like watching a TV show minus the visuals, with my imagination filling the gaps. Welcome to the Neighbourhood shares several intense stories, all simply through the use of music. It was awesome.
The sounds that they have created for this album is insane. The combination of the dark guitars, the heavy bass, the earth-shaking drums, and the pained vocals, all mixed with the electronic digital backings that run constantly in the background make for an uncannily unique kind of music. I’ve never heard anything else like it, and it’s the largest part of what makes this album so emotive.
The stories told vary from speaking about the exaggerated version of current day society that they based this album in (The Neighbourhood), to countless events that occur within it, as well as what goes into making the world be this way. It’s an incredibly in-depth look at the world itself, and possibly even a warning to us to be careful, or this is what we could end up living in.
Huge sounding instrumentals. Solid vocals that vary in range. Impressive song writing involving story-telling. Can see this echoing through stadiums all over the world.
Perhaps a song or two too long.