Progressive pioneers Pure Reason Revolution (or PRR to their fans) must be the only group that is influenced equally by The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and Justice. Certainly it’s the only such band that actually sounds beautiful and cohesive, rather than like a cake that’s exploded in the microwave: potentially tasty, but in the end just a bit of a mess.
Third album Hammer and Anvil sees them step up a gear in a number of ways but arguably most exciting is their collaboration with Tom Bellamy, former electro-fiend of now-defunct Reading rockers The Cooper Temple Clause. Jon Courtney – PRR’s primary songwriter, vocalist and creative lynchpin – agrees: “We’ve known Tom for years from Reading. I dropped him a line and said that we’ve been commissioned to do this new album, and thought it would be cool to work on a couple of tracks together. They went really well, so we did a few more. It was quick: within a couple of days we’d finished a song and thought ‘bang, let’s do another’!”
Such excitement at hardly White Stripes-esque recording pace is still justified. Both Bellamy’s and Courtney’s bands have a reputation for overlong gaps between albums, a characteristic that should be dispelled by the exquisite Hammer and Anvil. The record follows in the steps of their previous work: gorgeous harmonies, riffs and synth linked together by a loose but all-encompassing lyrical theme. Previously this has been dreams or love; this time it’s war.
Jon has “recently been tracking [his] ancestry and great-granddad, his role in World War I”. He adds: “Travelling Europe gave me an interest in territories and that brings you to World War II. I’ve always had an interest in war but I’ve definitely been reading up on it over the past couple of years.”
In an attempt to stem his unstoppable excitement for recounting visits to radar stations and bunkers, bass player and singer Chloe Alper adds that it’s “sonically a very different record…but maybe somewhere between” the space-y and electro styles of albums one and two, The Dark Third and Amor Vincit Omnia.
So does this synthesis mean that the band will regain some of the ‘prog’ fans they’ve lost? Chloe is defiant: “We’re not worried. We’re on the third record so we must have gathered some traction…I think we’ve gained more fans than we’ve lost. We’ve got more confidence now. Maybe it won’t make some of them happy but I don’t think you can please everyone all the time.” Jon puts it well: “The Dark Third was recorded six years ago. In the same way that you’re probably into new things now, so are we! You can only make music that’s gratifying for yourselves.”
The over-reverence for their debut is coupled with the less than complete support of their Reading home. But what is Reading’s loss is Oxford’s gain, as Chloe argues that “Oxford’s a better place to play than Reading”. No disagreement here, but don’t the band tour Europe more anyway? “It’s certainly more exciting to play a different country every day,” agrees Chloe, “than it is to play a different area of the UK that looks exactly the same as the last!” Jon refutes any possible criticisms of non-patriotism with a quipped “we wouldn’t say no to Glastonbury”.
While Chloe’s past musical career has brought her into contact with Marilyn Manson at Reading (he’s a “really nice and serene guy…super clever, very graceful to talk to – I was just very surprised that he was so pleasant”), the band’s tour stories are otherwise limited. “We’ve got too much to think about on stage,” she protests “so that probably means not getting annihilated every night!” Jon jokes that “we’re not in Jackass: it’s not like ‘Oh look, Jamie’s [Willcox, guitarist] thrown vodka over his face and set it on fire!’ Any practical jokes would probably be met with a punch to the face!”
As I nervously leave – whoopee cushion still firmly in my bag – I mention that I’m studying World Wars I and II next term. “Great times! Well, terrible times actually…” he self-corrects. Quite. But this demonstrates the instinctive enthusiasm Courtney feels for history, and with his love of progressive music this band have made something special.