Which Way Out, set for release on 24 April via Blang Records by North London guitar band The Reverse, is an acerbic portrait of 2020 Britain. The album opens with ‘Crush My Chest With Your Hate’, a biting social commentary on the side of the left behind. Lyrics such as “Losing your benefits / all your friends having kids / discussing their mortgages” paint an all too relatable picture of the rat race, whilst the reverb heavy melody creates a sense of foreboding akin to the opening of The Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘I Predict a Riot’.
Nathan Loughran (guitar/vocals), Sam Hartley (guitar), Teresa Kelly (bass/vocals/piano) and Jason Moran (drums) carry this sense of nervous restlessness across the release. Title track ‘Which Way Out’ explores the hot topic of mental health. Frontman Loughran seems to espouse how important it is to check in with your friends, whilst simultaneously experiencing a crippling inertia, an inability to actually do anything: “I heard that since he left you, you don’t speak anymore / I’d call you and come round, if I thought that that would help”.
The chugging riffs of ‘Abstract Heart’ mimic the cogs of the machine, as aspiring artists get ground down by The Man. Lyricist Loughran sings, “He writes less now he works / Because you can’t pay the rent with books of unpublished verse,” and it’s clear he counts himself amongst the ranks of the creatives finding it difficult to make art alongside the demands of their day jobs. The same cynicism shines through in ‘Kill Us All’, which seems to say since “time will catch us and kill us all”, what’s the fucking point in anything, anyway?
In the acoustic ‘Kind Eyes’, the record’s shortest track at just 0.58, the listener is slapped around the chops with the sweary punchline: “She said you’ve got kind eyes, so how come you’re such a fucking c**t?” It’s abrasive, but it works; as the album midpoint, it’s a wakeup for the listener to sit up and take note of the subsequent, ‘Nobody Likes You, Everybody Hates You’. This song has a musical theatre quality thanks to Loughran’s talk-singing tendencies, there’s a Dickensian urgency that pulls the listener through a sprawling map of pop culture references, from Jeremy Kyle to Hannibal Lecter as the band holds up Britain’s dirty laundry – the things that divide us – for all to see.
It’s definitely a distinctly English record, with 70s-inspired kitchen sink lyricism in ‘Nothing on Telly’ and the band’s own creation, dingy pub lyricism in ‘Skimming Stones’: “Later in the pub playing pool / you always used to beat me / at least as a general rule.” There’s also a paternal, didactic tone in ‘The Day Before We Died’, wherein Loughran cautions ‘Don’t drink alcohol / Don’t smoke cigarettes / Don’t do drugs / Or have unprotected sex”, with a quintessentially British comic darkness shining through in the lines “Don’t trust strangers when they smile / Don’t trust your neighbours, they could be paedophiles”.
Which Way Out is an intensely political record, but it’s personal at the same time. In standout track ‘A Vague Arrangement’, Loughran duets with the band’s newest member, Teresa Kelly, with the two singers lamenting a missed opportunity for connection. The musical interludes are pregnant pauses which force the listener to contemplate the people in their own lives who might have got away. It’s an age-old story of shared blame, shared guilt, and shared regret, as modern life gets in the way of something more meaningful: “A vague arrangement that we made / we tried to keep / but had to break / I think of it sometimes”.
As a whole, Which Way Out paints a depressing but a pretty accurate picture; us Brits are all just plodding along, lamenting the fact there’s nothing decent on TV, and waiting for somebody else to pick up the phone and rescue us from existential despondency…
Words by Beth Kirkbride