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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon 26 April 2003
Redemption at last. Every new Stereophonics album has enhanced their popularity and sales, while the actual content has sharply declined in quality. Tired third album Just Enough Education To Perform (2001) led to them being hailed as one of Britain's biggest bands, with the UK top 5 success of singles 'Mr Writer', 'Have A Nice Day' and the sensitive cover of Rod Stewart's 'Handbags and Gladrags'. Apart from the quality of a few tracks, Just Enough Education... was an exceptionally poor output from a band who proved their worth on this dazzling rockfest. Second album Performance and Cocktails (1999) was initially held as their best, most accessible collection to date - but recent opinion has shifted considerably. Although accomplished in its own right and an admirable sister album to the debut, Performance and Cocktails is firmly overshadowed by the enduring appeal of Word Gets Around, which holds all the unpretentious components that make The Stereophonics one of Britain's best bands of the last decade.
Just Enough Education... did what so many British bands have been tempted to do: to deliberately 'Americanize' their style to tap into the lucrative market across the lake. So it was successful for Bowie - what then? Name-checking San Francisco and being the latest to ponder Kennedy's assassination does not good music make, as the 'Phonics have found to their dismay. Word Gets Around's success bred on regional nostalgia for their small town Welsh home, with profound yet hardly world-changing local incidents the themes. One can't help but feel the grief of Billy Davey as 'Phonics lead singer Kelly Jones chronicles his daughter's tragic death (in 'Billy Daveys Daughter'): it is hardly on the same worldwide level as Kennedy's death, and so much the better. Similarly, standout track Local Boy In The Photograph relates the second-hand memories of a boy's suicide on the railroad with the utmost poignancy: 'He'll always be 23/Yet the train runs on and on/Past the place they found his clothing'.
Death is a main theme - it surfaces again in 'Same Size Feet' and 'Looks Like Chaplin' - but the pumping rock pace never permits morbidity. Instead, nostalgic yearning and perhaps a lament for the disappearing small town life - a decidedly unusual premise for a rock band - are the implied main concerns. 'Last of the Big Time Drinkers' ('I don't need to eat or sleep a wink at the weekend/just rot my guts and I can't wait for my next drink') is deeply ironic and satirical in its approach, yet is emblematic of further remorse for the increasing imposition of modernity, as pondered in a bewildered fashion in the slow tempo 'Traffic'. 'We all face the same way/Still it takes all day...Is anyone going anywhere?/Everybody's gotta be somewhere.' And just to confirm it all, the album is dedicated 'to the people of Cwmaman: "keep the village alive".
Musically, The Stereophonics are nothing new, as gritty rock songs with reference points such as the Rolling Stones, Jam, Nirvana and early Who have been tried with varying degrees of success by countless bands. However, it is not just the unusual song writing themes that set them apart. Irresistible hooks are rampant with dynamism unmatched, but it is the gravel-in-the-throat vocals of Kelly Jones that make their compositions so arresting. With a delivery matched in modern times only by Anthony Keidis (of Red Hot Chili Peppers' fame), Jones' grate (think Rod Stewart with brawn and vigour) quite simply makes many of the tracks his own - 'More Life In A Tramps Vest' and 'Check My Eyelids For Holes' are fine examples.
This album is here not through accident or personal favouritism (although you can undoubtedly see my fondness for this record). Its legend has grown - and will continue to grow - as it gains more exposure. Word Gets Around comes highly recommended.
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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