In attempting to pin down the music of Jaguar Love – music that by turns sounds instinctive, is initially unpalatable, and has the potential to be stylistically jarring – it would be easy (and something of a journalistic duty) to look closely, to the members’ previous bands, as obvious and entirely reasonable reference points.
Those familiar with The Blood Brothers circa-‘Crimes’ for example (the strutting peacock of that hallowed band’s almost-perfect back catalogue) may be especially gratified with the likes of ‘Jaguar Pirates’ and ‘Highways Of Gold’; the former is four minute rock-opera by way of Franz Ferdinand, with vocals that appear speeded up but are all the more scary for probably having been left untreated, while the latter is a shinier and more detailed production of the best of the demos that Jaguar Love first posted on their MySpace last year. Both are punctuated with shrieks, freaky carnival-like keyboards, and the now trademark surrealistic wordplay, but it’s the underlying pop (as in catchy, melody-drenched POP) structure which slowly nudges Jaguar Love into a more essential category of listen than any more conservative, past-glory-scraping, approach would have reaped.
The problem, if it can be described as such, is that the great songs on ‘Take Me To The Sea’ take several listens to unravel; for fans of any of the members’ previous work the music may at first strike you, as it did with this writer, as too formulaic, seemingly too intent on lurching from one idea to the next to really connect (whereas with The Blood Brothers there was this wonderful inner logic where every extreme diversion made thrilling sense), too stuck in the aforementioned “conservative” past. Only ‘The Man With The Plastic Suns’ and ‘Vagabond Ballroom’ suffer from this numerous plays later – accurate numbers available somewhere on last.fm – though to be fair they prove that Jaguar Love could probably write thrilling three-minutes of ADD hardcore in their sleep. When the record does click though, it’s wonderful.
Alongside the Jackson 5 breakdown on ‘Humans Evolve Into Skyscrapers’ (the album’s standout moment, seriously), a significant glam rock influence creeps through, which makes sense when you think about how wilfully camp The Blood Brothers could be. In fact the description of glam from Wikipedia – “flamboyant lyrics, a campy, theatrical blend of nostalgic references to science fiction and old movies, all over a guitar-driven hard rock sound” – would need only a cursory edit to apply to Jaguar Love. It’s there on the pounding drums of ‘Bats Over The Pacific Ocean’, the gang chants of ‘Georgia’, the widescreen mutant-soul of ‘Bone Trees And A Broken Heart’.
Jaguar Love inevitably take every opportunity to splatter their canvas, Johnny’s tumultuous instrument of a voice constantly startling; at first it drags Jaguar Love to the edge of parody, but get under the skin of ‘Take Me To The Sea’ and it’s dazzling. Though they haven’t quite stepped out of the shadow of their collective past – and it is hard to listen to Jaguar Love in any other context – it’s a mighty first step.