Dawn Chorus #10: The Bluetones – Science & Nature

Dawn Chorus #10: The Bluetones – Science & Nature

Having had a reissue over the summer and about to be played in full on The Bluetones’ UK tour in November, we take another listen to their third album Science & Nature for our Monday morning Dawn Chorus.

The Bluetones Science & Nature artworkArtist: The Bluetones
Album: Science & Nature
Label: Mercury 
Year of release: 2000 
Genre: Indie rock, alt-pop

Undoubtedly the immense success of, and enduring fan fondness for, The Bluetones 1996 debut ‘Expecting to Fly’ has played a big part in the career trajectory of the band. But while it got them started and spawned the song which 25 years on is still most called for at gigs, far from deciding to ride a Britpop pony until exhausted it dropped, or letting the shadow of the album fall too heavily on their subsequent work, the band continued to evolve across a further five studio albums (and rumours abound new material may be on the way as we enter a new decade).

This, their third album, has just had a vinyl reissue and will be played in full on the forthcoming UK tour so it seems a good time to revisit what is an underrated exploration across a range of genres, dripping in pastoral imagery and understated storytelling. Perfect? No…but certainly endowed with several near-perfect melodic pop moments, and an indicator of where this band slowly and carefully was (they’re not over so maybe more correct to say is) heading.

Beginning with ‘Zorrro’ The Bluetones set the scene in a way they do rather well, going with an opening track which Magic Eye like gives a suggestion of what will come later on while also acting as a bridge to their previous album. As with all the songs here the foundation is solid pop, and what’s built above is embellished by technique and influences – here there is a flourish of trumpet, and a slab of sound in the chorus, but the familiarity of a tone which is instantly recognisable as this band and this band only.

A run of songs in the early part of the album – ‘The Last of the Great Navigators’, ‘Tiger Lily’ ‘Mudslide’, ‘One Speed Gearbox’ – pick up from the opener to explore genre but with each bringing in pastoral imagery and giving just enough realism to any romance. With each passing song it’s clear this is a coherently themed album but made of tracks which stand strong as individuals too. Instrumental ‘Blood Bubble’ is of its time but lifted above its peers by not sticking rigidly to rock but creating an expansive element around another chiming and catchy-as-hell melody.

‘Autophilia or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Car’ pivots us at the midpoint with a saucy nudge and wink humour to the lyrics, lo-fi beat, and simple guitar line beneath the higher register vocal. Initial listens may have left the impression this track was the band underplaying themselves, but the simplicity is the skill here, and the scuzz which is brought in later in the track adds a surprising bit of interest to something which could be otherwise easily passed over.

But beyond this track it is the run of songs to the album’s end which find the band at their best. ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ opens with a brass motif which at once brings in the underlying sadness in the song, but the community it seeks too. From there it is among the finest pop – melancholic and confessional, holding the listener in that hard to define place between emotions.

‘Basement Song’ finds its moment in the long out-jam where the effortless way The Bluetones spin tunes is once again on display and take this from an average side 2 album track to something which is elevated to a beautiful stand-alone song.  ‘Slack Jaw’ ups the game further, with gorgeous Country beats and a twang to the melody wrapped around the sort of melancholic love song Morriss writes so well, full of tenderness but not without bite: ‘I hope that one day when you’re ancient / preparing for another lonely night / you close your eyes for one last time / and you see me in my prime / the great lost love of my life’. 

Closer ‘Emily’s Pine’ would surely take the prize – should there be one – for Most Catchily Melodic Murder Ballad. There seems little ambiguity in the lyrics that love and possession have become convoluted in this tale, while whether the narrator is guilty of murder or only of reliving memories of a love (rather than life) lost is cleverly left a little looser. The pastoral imagery is heavily daubed again, but is done so with a careful hand leading the listened into rapt meditation, rather than forceful immersion.

Melodically the song trips along quite nicely with an Americana twang with a subtle sci-fi sonic surfacing every now and then, but it’s where it stretches away first to a shimmering soundscape and then to layered surf pop vocals, the faintest echo of the Beach Boys in multi-tracked Morriss, which takes this from pleasant to POW!

And so, it is the repeating refrain of this track which stays with you long after the song (and the album) have finished, the bittersweetness hanging in the air, the scent of the forest so carefully evoked, and the long stretch of loss burning as deep through your heart as the elation of love did before. It captures well a band now confident enough to create playfully, experienced enough to deliver masterfully. It gives a hint at how adept at blending genres Morriss and the band will become with time while also further honing their indie rock core, making Science & Nature a gem in The Bluetones back catalogue you won’t want to pass over.

Find The Bluetones:

Dawn Chorus is a week day feature sharing an album to listen to on your morning commute, the school run, or at other times with the intention of surfacing classics you might not have given time to yet, indulging in old favourites, and helping you discover the best of new releases. If you’d like to suggest an album for the feature, or contribute a guest write up on an album you think more people should hear, get in touch

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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