Tellison – ‘Hope Fading Nightly’

By Rob Barbour

It’s been four years since the last Tellison album, ‘The Wages of Fear’. An album which in a just world would have sent them into the stratosphere (or at least its sonic equivalent, the Radio 1 ‘A’ playlist). Sadly, we live in a world where justice is nothing but an abstract concept and a French electro band.

The sense of hopelessness felt by so many members of ‘Generation Y’ is only exacerbated by the success of our peers – real or perceived – being fed to us in real time through an arty Instagram filter and a storm of #LivingTheDream hashtags. And with their third album, frontman Stephen Davidson and his quartet of perennial underachievers have provided the perfect soundtrack to this dystopian nightmare. ‘Hope Fading Nightly’ is a harmonious rendering of the feeling of hopes and dreams collapsing in on themselves under the weight of unmet expectations, existential angst and generational detachment. And it’s wonderful.

The album opens with the lush, balladesque ‘Letter to the Team (after another imperfect season)’ on which Davidson sets up the metaphor of Tellison as an underdog sport team, explicitly apologising to the other members of the band, “for this holding pattern of defeat on defeat on defeat” before delivering his equivalent of the climactic motivational speech by evoking The Replacements: “Like Keanu Reeves says/Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever”.

The band-as-team metaphor continues later on ‘Rookie of the Year’ by which time Davidson, apparently resigned to the team’s failure, faces up to its attendant schadenfreude: “I never really made it/Other prospects came along/And the worst thing that I do/Is take comfort that they won’t make it too”. If you’re looking for a record filled with ecstatic, life-affirming anthems, you won’t find it here.

That’s not to say it’s a wall-to-wall buzz-kill. Lyrically, ‘Hope Fading Nightly’ unequivocally lives up to its title but musically, Tellison are still the power-pop band we fell in love with all those years ago. They may have grown up but, like a battered Fender Telecaster, they’re road-worn yet still sound perfect. Early album highlight ‘Helix & Ferman’ (the title’s Nabokov reference being the first of many indicators of Davidson’s fiercely intelligent approach to songwriting) blasts out of the gate at the speed we’ve come to expect from the band, but the dual guitar lines and classic three-chord pop progression underpin a confessional tale of “getting wrecked/when the thing that you’re looking for is respect”.

The album also contains a couple of straight-up, grunge-tinged bangers in the shape of ‘Boy’ (by secondary lyricist Peter Phillips), a tale of a youthful relationship being outgrown, and ‘Tact is Dead’ on which Davidson channels the frustration of a generation of young Britons let down by the same society that told them to work hard, behave and sit back and reap the rewards: ”It turned out meritocracy was a lie…throw me onto a tube train/pay me the minimum wage/so I will never earn more than my parents”. Not since Nirvana has a chorus as nihilistic as “My generation doesn’t mean that much to me” been so damn catchy.

Whether angry or heartbroken, apologetic or apoplectic, Tellison can’t help but sound achingly honest and stunningly, heartbreakingly melodic. But as we mentioned earlier, this is indie-rock for literature enthusiasts. The chorus of ‘Orion’ may be “We could be best friends/And then kiss/and ruin everything/yeah, yeah yeah” but rejected-adolescent pop-punk this is not: “Orion looked down vengefully on me”, Davidson sings as a prominent and melodic bassline bobs around his plaintive vocal,“Now my heart is that giant, blind hunter/And I am lost forever.” It’s powerful stuff, masked by a profoundly adept ear for a soothing melody.

‘Mendokusai’, meanwhile, reminds us of mid-90s era James (specifically ‘Runaground’) – another band whose stock in trade was strangely uplifting tales of tragedy. Where ‘The Wages of Fear’ hid its melancholy behind a slick Pete Miles production job, ‘Hope Fading Nightly’ has a more muted feel suited to its material. It all comes to a devastating but strangely satisfying conclusion with the one-two punch of a musically upbeat track about the death of a friend, ‘My Marengo’ and the tearduct-draining ‘Tsundoku’.

The penultimate line of the record is “They said if I tried and tried I’d be happy”; maybe they did, but on the strength of this album perhaps it was right to ignore them. Richly rewarding repeated listens, this might be the strongest collection of songs released by a British artist this year. ‘Hope Fading Nightly’ is a layered, fragile masterpiece.


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