When Mat McHugh made a conscious decision to shuck his Jack Johnson-esque beach front musings and take an edgier approach to The Beautiful Girls’ 2007 album Ziggurats, the changes were subtle if any. In the latest TBG album, Spooks, the sound is again directed into new sonic directions by McHugh, albeit again only by an acute degree.
The same familiar reggae sound is present throughout, with cuts like the upbeat party-starter ‘Don’t Wait’, the anti-corporate toaster ‘Gratitude’ featuring Obese Records’ Vida Sunshyne, and the cute calypso narrative ‘After All This Time’ staying true to previous album aesthetics, but it’s the overall theme of Spooks that will set it apart from past efforts.
Having recently slipped an engagement ring on the finger of his girlfriend, McHugh’s lyrical content focuses (unsurprisingly) almost solely on love and relationships, and it’s this focus that produces the real gems on the eleven track disc. ‘My Mind Is An Echo Chamber’ sets the mood early with thick syrupy dub and lyrics mourning over romantic regrets. The sombrely acoustic ‘Home/Family’ continues the intimate tone of yearning before shifting gears into an energetic keyboard and piano-driven second half, and the understated album closer ‘My Latest Mistake’ is a simplistically beautiful confessional to a hurt lover.
This album, when compared to The Beautiful Girls previous albums can be seen as more of the same from a band seemingly treading water. But with the majority of the instruments on Spooks (apart from the smoky brass sounds expertly delivered by long-time collaborators Matt Keegan and Simon Ferenci) played exclusively by McHugh in his home studio, this album is more an introspective journey by a solo artist instead of a Beautiful Girls collaborative effort. Spooks will not see The Beautiful Girls given trophies for evolving their sound, but if there’s an ‘AC/DC Award’ for staying true to their roots (horrible pun, I know) and doing it well, then they should clear some room in the cabinet.