Whether you’re holding the CD or LP version in your hands or taking in the album via iTunes, pause for a moment and take a look at the cover of Flashbacks, the third album from the Leeds-based band the Lodger. You might find yourself eyeing certain elements of the design from odd angles, trying to make out whether they represent genuine wear and tear or are intentional. This reviewer certainly did, thinking at first that one particular review copy had been scuffed up in transit. That’s not the case, however. In keeping with the album’s title, the look of Flashbacks not only echoes a timeless aesthetic but borrows the signs of aging that might be associated with a long-lost piece of vinyl found secreted away in a record store’s used section. The band’s previous album, 2008’s Life is Sweet, has a similarly era-defying look to its cover design, but didn’t go quite so far. That’s understandable — with a design choice like this, there’s an implicit danger of coming off as a bit precious.
Throughout the album, singer/guitarist Ben Siddall seems compelled to fight off that tendency, mainly through the employment of a deep-seated lyrical cynicism, tempered with a hope for redemption. “I had been dreaming / Of a better place / Where I got along with / The human race,” he sings on “Have a Little Faith in People.” Later, on the title song, he refuses to apologize for bad behavior, explaining, “I always did the best / At every single test / I ever did at school.” Siddall’s voice is in the same melancholy vein as Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars mainstay Robert Wratten, and the Lodger’s music suggests that that influence goes beyond the vocal approach. The Lodger takes a restrained, austere approach to uptempo, jangling rock — though here, the presence of trumpet and saxophone tilts the dynamic away from what might be expected from that particular strain of indiepop. And the rhythm section of bassist Joe Margetts and drummer Bruce Renshaw provides a hearty backbeat to the dense “Stand Up!,” which nods at the Paul Weller discography.
Much as was the case with Life is Sweet, Flashbacks is a solid case of smart indiepop done right. And while the artwork’s attempts to cast this as a recently discovered artifact my not be the group’s best decision, the points at which they expand their style from standard-issue power-trio arrangements are ultimately risks that pay off. Equally rewarding is the moment when Siddall’s voice is joined by another for “Running Back Home to You,” the song that concludes Flashbacks. You end up feeling halfway decent for the guy — the persona that he’s created may be misanthropic, but it’s certainly been put through the paces by the end of these 10 songs.