Plastic Mermaids: It’s Not Comfortable To Grow – album review

Plastic Mermaids: It’s Not Comfortable To Grow

Sunday Best (Domino)


Out now

Plastic Mermaids: It’s Not Comfortable To Grow – album review

Keith Goldhanger has been writing about Plastic Mermaids since he first crossed paths with them in 2015 inside a small venue in the Welsh capital. Here he keeps us up to date with the bands second album It’s Not Comfortable To Grow.

On first listen Plastic Mermaids second album It’s Not Comfortable To Grow may sound as though it’s chronicling Douglas Richards going through heartbreak with a cinematic soundtrack that would suit fast open roofed sports cars driving carefully on secluded winding mountain roads.

At times its dark, eerie yet also anthemic.
Douglas sounds upset.

After a few listens we decide that sometimes it can be a little unsettling being reminded of how sad and miserable we can feel about life’s disappointments. Title track, It’s Not Comfortable To Grow and the grim Something Better (well the latter part anyway) are the dark bits. One feels they could have been brave and opened the album with an instrumental, maybe even closed with another, however having said that, some of Douglas’ intimate lyrics on the latter maybe sad and slightly bitter but are also honest, funny, powerful, heart-breaking cries of angst that the front man seems to have experienced and based a lot of this album around.

Those two early opinions are soon brushed aside as we delve into the rest of the album piece by piece and conclude this may be some of the bands best work to date featuring some of the best lyrics we’ve heard by the frontman who describes some of the feelings many of us have no doubt at one time or another experienced ourselves.

When these lyrics wash over the listener it’s epic and beautiful, pure Plastic Mermaids material. When you find yourself unable to escape from the sadness that distracts from the music it can be slightly unsettling. The further you dig into this album you realise that Douglas is alright, (‘Its my life and I don’t care if I’m right or wrong’) and after a few listens one wonders whether or not Douglas ever intended this to be a concept album chronicling this recent period of his life.

One or two criticisms apart this is as great as everything else the band have released since we first made sure we’d be watching them in a tiny room in Cardiff when a certain Rhian Teasdale (Wet Leg) provided some unexpected, brilliant vocals that had to be witnessed to be believed. She’s moved on of course and it’s credit to the band that the mid set song that at the time could get a small room to drop jaws in unison feels like just a dim and distant memory nearly a decade later. Even better songs have since been written by the band.

Plastic Mermaids: It’s Not Comfortable To Grow – album review

For those of us with our own Spotify playlists this could be considered a third album. Everything Is Yellow And Yellow Is My Least Favourite Colour, alongside earlier single releases were a fabulous introduction to the band’s music.

Suddenly Everyone Explodes, the bands ‘debut’ established the band as one that may have had their fair share of comparisons heaped onto them however It’s Not Comfortable To Grow pretty much tells us that with an impressive list of songs behind them now, we can put those Grandaddy, Sparklehorse, Flaming Lips….. comparisons to one side and now give this band their own space on the shelf.

There’s no massive swerve of direction here if anyone was expecting one. The clunking, atmospheric, euphoric, electronic, experimental and at times beautiful pieces that make up each particular song are still there. The choirs, synths, strings, brass and piano are also present that assist in reaching the anthemic goals that the band always seem to be aiming for whenever they get together and the vocals are presented with varying a number of effects to blend in with the tunes we can hear in the background. When the two main elements merge it can be glorious. When Douglas’ voice is heavily at the forefront it can be slightly distracting from everything else going on behind it. Overall, the best bits of this album are even better than the songs that have brought us this far already.

The title track that opens this starts off shaky and certainly isn’t the best song on the album. A slow subtle bass drum is the first backdrop for Douglas’ vocals that soon merge into a shed full of instrumentation that build up slowly giving the listener a hint of what should have been the first of many euphoric moments but doesn’t manage to achieve anything bar frustration. As already mentioned, an instrumental may have been braver.

From then onwards though it’s pretty much full speed ahead, hands in the air, eyes to the sky and fireworks in our heads.

Girl Boy Girl is standard high quality Plastic Mermaids verse chorus verse chorus foot tapping, body swerving stuff. It’s well produced and the first of many great songs on this that anyone familiar with previous releases by the band would certainly have expected to hear before hitting play. Everything in this track sums the band up perfectly, there’s a lot going on of course, the chorus builds the more times we hear it and thoughts of proclaiming this one of the bands best pieces yet are already in consideration. A cracker of a song and worthy of being the opener.

Disposable Love is another Plastic Mermaids song that sits in the same pile of songs this sextet (a lot more actually- we’ve stopped trying to count) have given us in the past that sit comfortably alongside previous favourites, 1996, Alaska, Polaroids, Saturn, Paris Milkshake…… (There’s quite a list forming nowadays). This isn’t the only song here that achieves this accolade even though the temptation to start singing MGMT’s Time To Pretend during the intro is something that’s tempting but wears off eventually. Glorious backing vocals, beautiful strings and electronics buzzing in the background give the song the air of nostalgia as Douglas seems full of the joys of life as he’s suggesting a night out on the lash and allowing the drink to persuade him and anyone around him that it might just be time to form a band. The video, showing scenes featuring the Richard brother’s youthful shenanigans on the Isle of Wight take us back even further. It’s nostalgic for those of us who were not even there at the time.

It’s Pretty Bad is a slow-paced beauty. It’s as gorgeous as anything Grandaddy have given us as it builds and blossoms into something quite magical. Environmental keeps the listeners attention with its crazy free form electronic solo and dreamy vocals. Life’s A Colourful Thing When You Look At It Right is more of an intro to Disco Wings, another strong Plastic Mermaids song that sounds like no other band except for Plastic Mermaids. In this Douglas seems to be taking care of himself, celebrating independence, owning himself and the song includes a screaming guitar solo Peter Frampton would be proud of. Probably the best song they’ve given us since Girl Boy Girl.

Marbles pt1 merges seamlessly into Marbles pt2 as Douglas sings “I wanna move I wanna dance I wanna freak my shit to Techno Trance…..” and the party has started, the sadness has gone for a while and provides us with some of Douglas’ best vocal performances to date before the drums get frantic the electronics fade in and out and the brass appears.

Something Better is the sound of Douglas drowning his sorrows yet again in song. You can imagine him sitting in the corner of a late-night bar sinking the remains of a bottle of whisky as he writes the words down at speed before falling on the floor and waking up the next morning with the pages from his notebook still stick to his face as the drums and piano continue to play on in the background. It’s such a lovely song nevertheless and even though it sounds bitter and sad, it’s euphoric at the same time. A mixture of emotions that’s quite unique if a little unsettling towards the latter half of the song.

“… I’ll put much better clothes on and wash in places you know that I smelt wrong” must be the funniest lyrics we’ve heard in a love song whilst “I hate my best friend and my best friend hates me” could be the most direct, bitter, honest and painful words one could write.

The piano led Epsom Salts slow the pace down as the album ends with Elastic Time closing the album beautifully with a huge orchestral finale that Plastic Mermaids have always been so good at.

It’s Not Comfortable To Grow is the result of a band growing up and drifting into adulthood. Realising that some things cannot last forever but at the same time steering the ship with the Plastic Mermaids logo on providing some stability in their lives that they may not be able to control elsewhere. This is another fabulous selection of songs to cherish alongside what the band have already achieved. Something we imagined and hoped we’d get to witness from the very first time they were first introduced into our lives. These songs are the results of lockdown, personal upheaval and living on an island in the South of England. The pipe and slippers Supertramp influenced album is not too far away one imagines.

Plastic Mermaids are Douglas Richards, Jamie Richards, Chris Newnham, Chris Jones, Tom Farren and more than a dozen additional musicians contributing with brass, strings and backing vocals.

It’s not Comfortable to Grow is out now on Sunday Best Music.

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Words by Keith Goldhanger. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV).

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