Written by: Luke Dunmore
Refuse as a project has been quite some time in the making. I interviewed Jon Poole and Willie Dowling back in July 2021 (a much abridged version of the interview appeared in issue 6 of ERB Magazine) and Willie said they’d been toying with the idea for quite some time even then.
It’s a collection of songs from throughout their career that have never seen a physical release. Some were B-sides, others bonus tracks and several of them were stand-alone, digital singles that are no longer available.
They’ve been gathered together, remixed, remastered and released as one physical collection and there’s also a couple of brand new songs for good measure. Though the earliest of these songs are pushing ten years old now, Refuse (correct pronunciation of the title is intentionally ambiguous) doesn’t feel like an odds and sods collection, but a cohesive, vibrant and articulate piece of progressive power pop that combines engaging melody with challenging artistry. The harmonies throughout are impeccable and gorgeous and the lyrics, usually commenting on various aspects of society and politics, are deft and pointed; often with a flourish of descriptive imagery.
Probably the most straight ‘rock’ song on the album is the opening track The Straw Man, and it’s a biting stab at corrupt politics, as mentioned before, it’s a lyrical theme that is prominent throughout their work. White Light follows and, like The Straw Man, dates from around the time of their 2014 debut album, Bleak Strategies. Built around a slow, ominous beat that’s ushered in with a wailing, electronic siren. It’s a tone that fits well with the bleak, dystopian theme of the song. Things change around halfway through when some beautiful multi-part harmonies break out and things feel oddly positive from then on.
Elsewhere on the album is a trio of songs that were originally released digitally for a short time during 2016, namely Miles Checks Out, Bright Spark and Deep Breath. They’re also loosely connected lyrically as they all seem to concerned those mistreated, forgotten and ignored by society and/or the Government as well as those who found life to be full of underwhelming disappointment. None more so than the self-explanatory Miles Checks Out, which describes the final moments of a sad, defeated man as he stands on the edge of the Humber Bridge. It’s a personal highlight of the album and a heartbreaking song that belies it’s light-hearted piano pop style.
There are two songs that previously featured on 2021’s The Trump Chronicles EP that gathered together some of their more pointed political commentaries and dedicated to The Odious Wotsit himself. Bricks From The Wall is a rapid fire diatribe regarding his plans to construct a wall on the border with Mexico. It’s pulsing, lurching rhythms and squalling guitars occasionally evoke unlikely similarities with Primus and it’s another album highlight. Fuck You, Goodbye is originally another older song and is as angry as the title might suggest. It lists several types of people that keep modern society broken and miserable. It was the perfect song to usher out Trump’s regime.
The album closes with those two brand new songs and they’re both great. Push Repeat is an enjoyable upbeat piano pop about our ever-increasing dependency on communication technology and social media whereas The Hand Moved is a semi-ballad regarding the blatant, uncaring corruption of Boris Johnson’s time in charge.
Both Jon and Willie are accomplished multi-instrumentalists, experienced songwriters and, despite outward appearances, fiercely intelligent. Between the two of them, they’ve been involved with a ton of incredible and influential bands of varying styles. If you’re looking for big riffs and party tunes then you’ll not find them here but if you’re in the mood for thought-provoking, beautifully crafted songs that’ll stick in your head for days then this here’s your chap.