Everything is easy
Although they were feted for their jaunty 1986 hit ‘Driving Away From Home’, by that point in their musical trajectory, It’s Immaterial were already a band evolving and embracing different ideas.
Previously, the Liverpool outfit had made a mark with the kinetic alternative pop of songs such as ‘A Gigantic Raft (In the Philippines)’ and ‘White Man’s Hut’. But by the mid 1980s they had been experimenting with more sober compositions, as evidenced by the muted sound palette employed for their excellent Fish Waltz EP.
Although the band had gone through various lineup changes over the years (a situation given a not very subtle nod on ‘The Better Idea’ with its references to rats joining sinking ships and the idea of rough seas ahead), It’s Immaterial eventually settled down to two members, John Campbell (formerly of Yachts) and Jarvis Whitehead.
Their attempts to reach a bigger audience for their music had included the release of a rejigged ‘Gigantic Raft’ in 1984. But it wasn’t until they signed to Virgin subsidiary record label Siren that the band’s fortunes began to improve. An initial stab at chart success via the quirky pop of ‘Ed’s Funky Diner’ eluded them, but ‘Driving Away From Home’, with its combination of breezy guitars and laid-back vocal, somehow spoke to an audience intrigued by its road trip aesthetic. That release formed part of It’s Immaterial’s debut album, Life’s Hard and Then You Die (in essence a combo of new compositions and some cherry-picked tracks from It’s Immaterial’s previous releases).
That change in style and sound reached its apex on 1990’s Song album. Under the production talents of Calum Malcom, It’s Immaterial carved out a more thoughtful, sober collection of songs. As an album, Song was more interested in textures and moods which also weaved in mundane narratives of everyday life. The instrumentation and arrangements had a simpler approach, giving Campbell’s mesmerising lyrical delivery more of a focus.
By the time third album House For Sale was mooted, the band were having to contend with a variety of dramas, including the collapse of the Siren label. The band’s insistence for perfecting songs also proved to be a hindrance, which ultimately led to the half-finished material being consigned to storage for many years.
Having rediscovered the original tapes several years ago, both Campbell and Whitehead opted to complete the album. A crowdfunding initiative via PledgeMusic was also created in order to fund its completion. But it was a project that still faced a variety of challenges. The pair had to contend with choosing the tracks to complete the album, as well as writing new elements to complete some of the unfinished compositions.
“The tracks have different titles and have been reworked” the band stated through social media, “it is essentially the same ten tracks we started with. We are keeping the integrity of the original tracks that were selected for the album but updating them a bit.” That reworking includes updating the original ‘House For Sale’ track, which here has been retitled ‘Tell Me Why’ with some new lyrics added. The duo have also reunited with original producer and engineer Calum Malcom on finalising the album.
Yet despite the pair’s hard work to bring House For Sale to life, their plans hit a significant snag when PledgeMusic collapsed, which exacerbated the delays in getting the album through to the production stage.
The release of an album nearly 30 years in gestation seems like a typical Itsy career move, but the question to be really answered is what the quality of the music on the album is like, particularly when viewed through the lens of the modern era.
Luckily, It’s Immaterial have always enjoyed an ability to craft music that has a timeless quality to it (which covers their pop single mode as well as their more reflective directions). On that basis, House For Sale’s thoughtful and meditative lilt offers an oasis of sorts – particularly during a tough year beset by the COVID-19 crisis.
In essence, House For Sale is an album that sits somewhere between Life’s Hard and Then You Die and Song. There’s a more earthy quality to the compositions here with a warm, engaging quality overall.
Opening track ‘Summer Rain’ has an immersive, shimmering aspect to it while ‘Just North Of Here’ tracks closer to the narrative drift that Song dabbled in (“Just north of here/That’s where Heaven is for me”), bolstered by some effective string fills. In both cases, John Campbell’s mesmerising vocals draws the listener in.
There’s more of a groove to ‘Downriver’ with its sturdy synth tones and busy layers of instrumentation. The river analogies utilised in the lyrics are given some weight care of Campbell’s breathy vocal delivery.
Meanwhile, the shuffling beats of ‘Tell Me Why’ offers up a lush soundscape on one of the album’s finest moments. There’s something compelling about the piano melodies and the delivery of lines like “So tell me why and how come we end up here” which makes this composition pop out.
The touching ‘Up On The Roof’ offers an emotive reverie about loss and memory (“I guess that I still think about it now”) yet with an uplifting quality, which showcases one of the album’s sweetest moments.
There’s a stylish flourish to closing track ‘How Can I Tell You’, which seems to throw a nod to Song’s sparser approach to arrangement. Some inspired piano melodies and easy percussion gives this composition a warm aspect that touches the heart.
Not everything sticks the landing, ‘Kind Words’ offers up a contrasting male/female vocal which seems slightly out of step with the rest of the material on the album. But House For Sale is generally a well-sequenced affair. Anyone trying to spot the seams between the original material and the newer elements will likely have a tough job.
It’s Immaterial have been missing from the music scene for far too long, but the emergence of House For Sale is (hopefully) the first steps to future releases and possible live performances. The final album is certainly a welcome sight and a perfect place to forget about 2020’s dramas and issues. As the album states, it presents a sweet journey home.
House For Sale is out now on Burning Shed.