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The Spitfires exit on a high note with terrific ‘Play for Today’

The Watford, England-based band observe the doldrums of suburban life on their final album.
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The Spitfires -- Play For Today album cover art

THE SPITFIRES
PLAY FOR TODAY
Acid Jazz (CD, LP)
Four Stars

By John Curley

Play for Today, the fifth and final album by the Watford, England-based band The Spitfires, is a departure of sorts for the band. It is something of a concept album, spoofing BBC-TV’s 1970 to 1984 drama anthology series Play for Today with songs about the boredom of suburban life and wanting to escape it. It also has cheesy opening and closing songs, similar to TV shows, and three brief musical interludes interspersed throughout the album. Also, The Spitfires make more use of electronica than they had in the past, which makes me wonder what direction the band’s leader and songwriter Billy Sullivan will take with his post-Spitfires music.

At the conclusion of “Suburbia,” the opening theme, a spoken-word bit states, “And now for something a little bit different.” And that serves as both an introduction to the album and a notice to the fans of the band that this LP differs from the previous four.

Lead single “Save Me” is something of a tug of war between the upbeat, bass-driven, danceable music track and the lyrics, which express a desire to be as far away from the boredom of suburbia as possible. The funky, off-kilter “Blaze of Glory” continues the desire to escape suburban doldrums and opines “I don’t feel alive / I just wanna survive.” The strident “Don’t Look at Me” has horns and a direct Sullivan vocal, and it concerns one of the banes of suburbia, the cement-headed, violent cretin with too much attitude, too much time on his hands and too few active brain cells.

“Interlude 1: Accumulator” is a brief instrumental featuring music that one might hear in an elevator. That is followed by “Did You Have to Go?,” a funky song with prominent bass, keyboards and horns that has a female backing vocal. It is about pining for a lost love and feeling alone in the aftermath of their departure. “Find My Way Back Home” features piano and synth at the start before the full band kicks in. Sullivan sings about wanting to leave where he is but does not have the strength to do so. The New Wave-ish “Time to Take Sides” features Sullivan’s protagonist worrying about getting older and needing to make the proper choices to improve the quality of his life.

“Interlude 2: Helpline” is a brief, organ-driven instrumental similar to the cheesy music one hears during the always-interminable wait to speak to a representative on the phone. “Spoiler Alert” is a good rocker with horns and some nice guitar work. It discusses what Sullivan’s protagonist desires to do, and that those plans may not come to fruition. “Keep Me Waiting” has stinging guitar and heavy bass and drums with a direct Sullivan vocal. It concerns the desire for more in life and the disappointment of not getting it.

“Interlude 3: In It to Win It” is a brief instrumental that could serve as the soundtrack to a low-rent TV commercial. The best song on the album, the Godfathers-like “Reap What You Sow,” follows. Sullivan’s vocal cuts through the music like a buzz saw. Busting through the heavy bass and psychedelic guitar, Sullivan declares “You don’t want to go home at the end of the night.” Featuring a bluesy opening with a spoken-word intro, “Costa Del Mundane” presents Sullivan’s protagonist as a lame Englishman abroad who is trying to escape the boredom at home only to find more where he is. The final proper song on the album, “Promised Land” has Sullivan singing to a bossa- nova-style beat about unachieved dreams but hoping that love will get him where he needs to be. The album closes with the brief “Credits” that consists of organ and a chorus of voices, and concludes abruptly with a spoken-word “Good night.”

Other English bands have covered similar territory before, such as The Who with Quadrophenia, Blur with Parklife and The Jam with their song “Running on the Spot.” But The Spitfires hold their own against such stiff competition and put their own unique spin on it.

Play for Today is a bit of a grower. I enjoyed it considerably more on the second spin than I did on the first listen. It’s a solid piece of work and a fitting farewell for a terrific band. They will be missed.

The Spitfires will play one final farewell show this Saturday, February 26th, at the Electric Ballroom in London. The poster for the show can be seen below.

The Spitfires -- Farewell Show Poster