Hooton Tennis Club return with charming Big Box of Chocolates

big box of chocolatesThe ‘difficult second album’ theory; the idea that a band have spent so much of their early days working on a definitive debut album that by the time the follow up arrives they may have ran out of ideas. While legendary artists such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin effortlessly shrugged off such notions, there is some validity in the idea of the sophomore slump (proof of which can be found in the form of The Stone RosesSecond Coming, or MGMT’s Congratulations).

But for Wirral four-piece Hooton Tennis Club, there appears to have been no such pressure. The band’s debut - last year’s Highest Point in Cliff Town - was a sublime lesson in surreal lyricism and tongue-in-cheek atonal guitar soloing, though it was hardly a smash-hit record. With only their core fanbase to cater for, Hooton Tennis Club simply kept their heads down and got on with it, resulting in the equally enjoyable Big Box of Chocolates.

Beginning with familiar Pavement-esque guitar fuzz, opening track “Growing Concerns” is more downbeat and introspective than anything on their debut, complete with a bizarre spoken word section that’s heavy on the dog-bark samples. “Am I wasting my time sitting round being sensible?” ponders co-vocalist James Madden; the song a welcome (if slightly misleading) introduction to the rest of the album. Like Arctic MonkeysFavourite Worst Nightmare (thematically, if not sonically), Big Box of Chocolates is the sound of a band getting a bit older and seeing more of the world than they ever thought they would.

However, it’s when they switch on the charm that Hooton Tennis Club are at their most enjoyable. “Katy Anne-Bellis”, an ode to guitarist Ryan Murphy's ex-housemate, is particularly sweet on the ears. “We’re only down the road if you need us, Why won’t you come and see us?” serenades Murphy, and it’s hard not to blush at the jangly guitars and friendly lyrics.

Later on, “Meet Me at the Molly Bench” oozes the classic Hooton Tennis Club sound we’ve come to love, whilst nominating itself as ideal set-opener. Like Highest Point in Cliff Town, it’s also worth noting this album’s ridiculous yet brilliant song titles, from “Frost Bitten in Fen Ditton” to “O Man, Won’t You Melt Me”; “Bad Dream (Breakdown on St George’s Mount)” to the Parquet Courts-indebted “State of the Greatest Woman I Know”.

While not entirely branching out from the 90s guitar-sequel sound of their debut, its nevertheless welcome to hear an indie band in 2016 stick to their guns and not trade in the guitars for synthesisers. But Hooton Tennis Club’s major strength has always been in their lyrics. Like Blur circa 1993, Murphy and Madden craft wacky stories out of mundane everyday life, with gems like “You remind me of the statue of the greatest woman I know/You stand out in the rain, you stand out in the sun and the snow”.

Though the album isn’t as immediately catchy as its predecessor, Big Box of Chocolates is another sublime entry into one of the most interesting and underrated bands in the UK today.

Release: 21st October 2016, Heavenly Recordings

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