Like the protagonist in Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray, the Lostprophets live two lives. In the first they’re much like the rest of us, aging steadily yet inexorably, ideas and outlooks shifting with each new day. Yet in the second, more public guise of their recorded output they’re staying exactly the same, frozen forever as a Skins target audience of disaffected, marginalised 16 year olds, addled with hormones and drowning in self-doubt.
Take the opening track of new album The Betrayed, titled If It Wasn’t For Hate We’d Be Dead By Now. As a tribal, myopic, tragically self-absorbed 16 year old I scratched something similar into my Science folder. I wrote a poem furthering the sentiment, and attempted to turn the words into song whilst stacking shelves at a supermarket. The Lostprophets are in their thirties.
Many of their original fans are likely around the same, given that it’s been nine years since debut album Thefakesoundofprogress and thirteen since the first EP, yet there’s little here to woo the older listener. Between the frankly hilarious album title and GCSE Media cover design, to the cringingly passé text-speak of Dstryr And Dstryr, the whole release smacks of a focus group interpretation of what constitutes teenage appeal that only gets creepier the more you dwell upon it, like the marketing equivalent of grooming.
Not that the album doesn’t have its moments. The opening drum salvo manages to batter us effectively (even if its rather pointed evocation of Nine Inch Nails just serves to remind us of the previous Lostprophets drummer’s defection to that band’s touring lineup), whilst the brilliantly frenetic guitar work of the aforementioned Dstryr And Dstryr makes that track’s contrived aggression just about forgivable. First single It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here sees the band adopting the histrionics of Muse with a fair amount of conviction, whilst its guilty-pleasure follow-up Where We Belong gives us a Christian rock anthem filtered through Bon Jovi with a chorus so infectious you need bleach to get rid of it.
Best of all is the closing two-hander of Darkest Blue and The Light That Burns Twice As Bright, the emotive choruses of the former sidestepping mawkishness whilst still managing to soar. But it’s the latter that leaves the greatest impression, melancholy synths and piano foregrounding atmosphere over rhythm with a maturity that almost seems an apology for the wasted opportunities that make up too much of the album.
For He’s A Jolly Good Felon and Dirty Little Heart both feature extended outros far more interesting than the songs that precede them, dark cinematic interludes providing glimpses of a parallel Lostprophets freed from their pop tethering and all the better for it. Yet oddly for an album so slavishly married to convention The Betrayed struggles to maintain a coherent identity, its eleven tracks like wayward siblings each tugging away from the other, resulting in a rather jarring listen at points.
This isn’t a bad album by any means, and it definitely improves on repeated plays, once you get used to filtering out the more adolescent aspects. Yet despite media protestations to the contrary this is not their best work – that’s still second album Start Something – and there’s something of The Emperor’s New Clothes in the sycophantic fawning being indulged in by much of the music press: this is a collection of solid, excellently-produced and sporadically brilliant alternative songs, and nothing more.
The final minute of The Betrayed finds the guitars draining to a hollow, lonely feedback, Ian Watkins’ vocals replaced by a digital loop chanting ‘Fail’ until the close. It’s going too far to fully agree, but you’ve got to respect the band’s honesty. Hopefully next time they’ll choose to succeed.