It’s been clear from the outset that Meursault are a band that push outwards at all times. Their oft-changing line-up, unpredictable live shows and, most obviously, famously mercurial sound – which has seen them flicker constantly between the extreme end of glitch electronics and scratching, organic lo-fi folk sounds – make them seem like a band more comfortable in flux.
And yet, where other groups might seem indecisive, Meursault have always felt peculiarly centred. Whether it’s the keening howl of Neil Pennycook’s vocals, the innate knack for a buried melody or just simple confidence, there’s as much Meursault-ism in the most intimate moments of the band’s tracks as there is in the most alien. It’s fitting, then, that their third album seems to embrace that contradiction wholeheartedly, turning something completely fresh into something recognisable to the point of immediate familiarity.
It’s an idea found most evidently in ‘Lament for a Teenage Millionaire’, a track first heard on the band’s debut album – previously a piston-driven squall of artificial noise, now a banjo-led elegy that helped along by twinkles of piano and violin. To flirt so obviously with the idea of covering your own song is a tacit message to the listener: it’s still us, but we’ve changed (again). Playing on the edges of folk and piano-led alternative rock, it’s certainly a new direction in terms of their recorded work, but probably the most evident change comes from the quality of the sound, rather than the style of it.
Something For The Weakened is the first of the band’s albums to be recorded in a studio in the professional sense, and it’s in that clear-headed sound that those old melodies – the ones that used to hide underneath all the noise around them – emerge. ‘Flittin’’ is the kind of track an audience would get confused about trying to scream along to whilst wanting to dance simultaneously, ‘Hole’ has an almost musical quality to it (the theatre genre, that wasn’t a double-edged complement), shimmering and building but refusing to pay off in tantalising fashion, and ‘Dearly Distracted’ gives up on words altogether and gives us a proper, no-fooling, reverb-doused ‘80s guitar solo as an outro.
It can get a little close to the edge of obvious at times – ‘Dull Spark’s strident, percussive sound almost seems over-produced once the chorus kicks in – but that direct approach seems to be a mirror for a more approachable set of lyrics. Where Pennycook used to content himself with (occasionally sinister) crypticisms, Something For The Weakened deals in often devastating personal detail.
‘Mamie’ trembles with a lone piano as he admits that “it has all become a dream”, whilst ‘Untitled’ goes blow-for-blow in the bittersweet stakes as the discordant moods of a strummed acoustic and a violin strain match the beautiful opening phrase (“I was a new-laid egg / and I was dying to see the new sun / and the old moon / and all the beauty that that entails / so I spilled out of my shell a little too soon / I was wrong, but I was happy / and I could die with a smile”), but the best indication of this new, tell-all style comes in some frankly fantastic swearing, ‘Settling’ taking the crown with “You’re all waiting on a joke / but all I have are punchlines / so ha-fucking-ha.”
That directness, just like the cleaner production, brings these warring emotions front and centre, puts them on show and asks the listener to deal with them how they will. And that’s why this is still Meursault, despite the change – it’s uncompromising, but all the more enjoyable for that very reason, and it will remain so. Most other bands, if they had such a disparate catalogue, would reach this point and be told they’d found their true calling. But Meursault won’t. This might be a new crowning moment for them, but don’t expect them to stick around long to enjoy it.