The debut album is always a monumental moment in the history of any band. Some, most famously Guns ‘N’ Roses’ smash hit first record Appetite For Destruction, almost serve to become the calling card of the band, forever living on as the artist at their best and creating the dreaded breed of fans who will always “like the old stuff better”. Others, and my personal favourite example here would be You Me At Six’s Take Off Your Colours, show the potential of what a band could become, allowing the artists to go from strength to strength in the future. I think it’s fair to say that Birmingham-based quartet Taking Hayley’s Tricks And Games fits rather more snugly into the latter category, an album showing the talent and passion of its creators, but one that exists as a stepping stone towards greatness.
The potential Taking Hayley show on this record is hugely exciting. Right from their very beginnings in late 2010 the band have always strived for nothing less than pop-punk perfection, and nowhere on the record is this shown better than the album’s oldest song, “Don’t Let Go”. Often cited by frontman Alistair Keenan as the first song TH ever wrote together, the ridiculously bouncy rhythm of this song is a pure pop-punk gem, and the titular hook at the end of the chorus has gone a long way to making this song a live favourite since the band’s inception. However, this isn’t the only example of the band’s love for their own genre, as the excellent “Better Luck Next Time” would happily be at home on an earlier Kids In Glass Houses release, while “From Now Until Forever” is a lovely example of their slower, kinder song, as a tribute to friends they’ve made along the journey, and is somewhat reminiscent of the tendency that bands like All Time Low show for including slower tracks on their albums.
The singles from the album, however, are easily picked out as the top tracks to discover from this collection. “Circles” still proves the high point of most TH concerts, with the shoutalong “Come on, come on…” chorus and some superb guitar work from Levi Keeling, while most recent single “Up All Night” features a chorus which sticks with you for days after listening.
This leads on to the undoubted highlight of the album, the final song before the instrumental closer, and a song which is both familiar and brand new to longtime Taking Hayley supporters. Their previous release – an eponymous EP – featured an excellent single titled “Crying Eyes”, a straight-up slice of pop rock with an addictive chorus and musical chops to put the bounce into any venue. However, this overlooked the song’s real strength, the beautifully written lyrics (for me, the best song the band have written to date). This issue is addressed with phenomenal skill on the new album. Crying Eyes reappears at the close of the album, only this time, for all of the song save the closing chorus, Keenan sings alone with just a keyboard for company. His voice sounds haunting with such little musical backing, and the lyrics resonate much deeper than on the original version.
The one and only criticism of this album could only really be made by those who have followed the band since their beginning – while the album is excellent, it has to be pointed out, there is a certain lack of original material. While I give the band full credit for the new version of “Crying Eyes”, other songs, such as “Holding On” and “Don’t Let Go” are lifted pretty much directly from previous releases, and while they stand as impressive tracks, one wonders if their space on the record might have been better filled by new songs to add to the band’s fledgling canon. However, those songs on the record which are new are a great look into the exciting future of what I’m sure will one day be a force to be reckoned with in the UK music scene – and with an upcoming support slot on Mindless Self Indulgence’s UK tour to look forward to, their breakout moment may not be far away.
4 out of 5 high fives!