Man Alive confirmed that there was more to Manchester’s Everything Everything than a couple of quirky, odd-metred singles. Having taken their name from Radiohead’s Kid A, their debut album gleefully atomised pop structures and reconfigured them into strange shapes and unfamiliar angles.
The Mercury Prize-nominated record has a brace of multi-sectioned hyperactive songs that are rarely static. Like densely compacted mini-symphonies, they’re in a state of flux, constantly evolving as they go, more often than not ending at a very different point from which they started. This is strictly non-generic writing, consciously resisting any urge to stand still for any appreciable length of time, wilfully defying categorisation.
Jonathan Higgs’ falsetto vocals deftly navigate lyrics that blur between the profound and profoundly silly as his verbal acrobatics are required to traverse frantic, fast-changing melodies. A rare exception to this is found on Two For Nero. ‘I’m as a giddy as a baby in a centrifuge,’ sings Higgs in a song that melds references to games culture and the nagging ennui of ageing. Embedded in the baroque turning of a harpsichord, it elegantly captures the what-goes-around comedown after a cycle of highs as the real world dawns another day.
Schoolin’s collision between austere, spiralling guitar motifs pirouetting between the scurrying bustle of Brazilian carnival-style beats contains something that’s simultaneously clinical and precise yet given to a sense of festive abandonment. For all its savvy gloss, David Kosten’s finely-honed production places the song rather than the sound at the top of the pecking order. While the sonic textures are exotic, the performances energetic and the subject matter eclectic, what really works is the way these elements find themselves harnessed to the song and not the other way round. Coming out at a time when pop music was largely about leaden monochrome hooks, Man Alive shows a band prepared to push the three or four minute pop song about as far as it will go.
Final Form’s serrated keyboards are underpinned by a growling bassline that brings to mind Chris Squire’s turbocharged ascending treble runs. It’s a device that’s used to even more dramatic effect on the hurtling sections of Suffragette Suffragette. While probably unintentional, the surging three-part harmonies on the stop-start Weights, the anthemic NASA Is On Your Side and the driving chorus of Come Alive Diana, complete with a Steve Howe-like metallic clatter during a guitar break, does bring Yes to mind. And perhaps that’s as it should be. Challenging, complex yet absurdly catchy, if Yes were to form today they’d probably sound like Everything Everything.