Kids In Glass Houses - Dirt

They chose their targets, and hit most of them dead centre.

Label: Roadrunner

Rating: 7

Some would say that the last thing we need is a British power-pop band to rival one of the American heavyweights. Did you spot something unusual there? Yes, we said ‘British’. Cue the the looks of absolute astonishment.

You wouldn’t know it from listening to their music, but Kids In Glass Houses are indeed British. The quartet are based in Cardiff, surprisingly enough - they pass for an American ‘emo’ band better than most actual American ‘emo’ bands. The term ‘emo’ itself has picked up some bad press, of course, but the group (Aled Phillips, Iain Mahanty, Philip Jenkins, Joel Fisher, Andrew Sheehy) want to distance themselves from such a tag. They cite influences such as The Police, Pulp and Glassjaw - each band quite removed from the others in sound.

‘Emo’ bands are ten-a-penny these days, but what Kids In Glass Houses have to set them apart is the ability to write infuriatingly catchy slices of glossy yet impassioned pop-punk. Their 2008 debut, ‘Smart Casual’ was well received, even managing to secure a top 30 spot in the U.K. charts.

It’s easy to see why. The group’s sound is as accessible as the day is long, and with ‘Dirt’, that sound has been made considerably bigger. Will it equal ‘Smart Casual’s success in the charts? No: it will eclipse it. Believe us when we say that this lot have a potential top 10 smash on their hands, and there is a real possibility of the new album blowing a hole in the wall if enough people catch on.

Things pick up exactly where they left off with ‘Artbreaker I’, a track that announces the band’s return in style, showing us that they are not afraid to display their heavier side. The first in an impressive five-song run, it is followed by what’s possibly their best song to date. ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ is introduced by an infectious, stadium-ready riff and pounding drums.

The album’s main theme is a troubled relationship, and Phillips comes out with all guns blazing. ‘Wrestle with the questions in your head / They interrupt your sleep and fill your bed / Fuck yourself into the record books instead, it’s what you were born to do’. They even manage to pull off the key change near the end without making it sound horribly contrived; that’s an achievement in itself!

Long-time fan favourite ‘Sunshine’, a song that deals with depression while sounding so paradoxically uplifiting, is quite good, but is lost in-between ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ and ‘Matters At All’. The band are clearly appealing to a wider audience here, coming across as a power-pop Coldplay (that isn’t an insult by the way). The lyrics once again deserve mention, detailing the love life of someone who ‘passed out as a heart-throb’ but ‘woke up in a day job’.

Lead single ‘Youngblood (Let It Out)’ somehow continues this high quality run, another song that comes loaded with a startlingly impressive hook. In fact, the band’s ability to write them has improved tenfold.

They’ve managed to push themselves while still doing what they do best, sort of like how Fall Out Boy went into new territory with ‘Infinity on High’. They’ve even gone and written a couple of ballads. That sounds terrible on paper, but ‘The Morning Afterlife’ (that’s just a bad pun) manages to be genuinely affecting, telling the story of someone who’s set their sights too high and keeps falling short as the band move into something akin to Snow Patrol territory.

There are no actual ‘mis-steps’ on ‘Dirt’, just a handful of songs that fail to have much impact - that unfortunately come one after the other and fall down in the exact same area. After the euphoria of ‘For Better or Hearse’ (and that is cringeworthy), ‘Undercover Lover’ stumbles; thanks for that go to Frankie Sandford of The Saturdays and her completely unneccessary guest appearance. New Found Glory pop up on ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, a perfectly decent song that’s let down by their contribution to a horrible gang-vocals section.

‘Hunt the Haunted’ gets the good ship ‘Dirt’ back on an even keel, with the quartet back to doing what they do best, before part 2 of ‘Artbreaker’ closes the record with a great development of its counterpart’s melody and structure.

Kids In Glass Houses’ sophomore album knocks their debut out of the park. It has a better flow and better hooks. There are still problems, but these Kids can learn from their mistakes while continuing to push themselves. Some may have issues with the squeaky-clean production (and it’s easy to hear why), but others will just revel in the sound of a band with ambitions. They chose their targets, and hit most of them dead centre - and are now just a stone’s throw away from greatness.