The Bats - "The Guilty Office" (The Guilty Office)
Over a decade ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor of Robert Scott, the Bats’ lead singer and main songwriter, in which they described how he paints. Scott sets up several canvases side by side and went from one to the next with first one color, then another, and then another. Whether you take this for ill or good, it explains a lot about his music. Across 26 years and seven albums, the Bats have been quite consistent. Each tune has a crisp beat driven by the unstoppable rhythm section of Paul Kean and Malcolm Grant, an economical guitar melody by Kaye Woodward, and a sweet-sad lyric delivered in a matching voice. There’s also a certain formulaic quality, a risk of lapsing into pleasantly generic Batsong.
Such was the case with The Bats At The National Grid, the 2005 recording that heralded the quartet’s return after a nine-year studio hiatus. The Guilty Office feels different; it sounds quite a bit like its predecessor (which in turn sounded quite similar to early ’90s efforts like Fear of God and Silverbeet), but like a new eyeglass prescription, it renders the familiar in sharper detail.
And it’s details that make these songs. Like the way Woodward’s guitar lifts off from “Crimson Enemy’s” jaunty groove, wheels gracefully around the field a couple times, then lands just where it ought. Or the way Scott sinks your heart with the first two lines of “Like Water In Your Hands,” which sets a new standard for Bats thrift by getting in, saying its part, and getting out in 1 minute, 39 seconds.
The title song best captures the Bats’ stealthy genius. Each spare line imparts a detail that sounds at once significant and pretty mundane. Scott sings them twice, then the song drifts out on chiming guitars that barely change. There’s nothing so gauche as a cathartic solo; the slow dissipation of tension and longing feels much more true.