On previous records it seemed like everything involved in Scottish four-piece The Spook School came with a twist, whether it be their sharp vocal interplay or the poppy variations on punk rock earnestness, it all seems delightfully up for grabs.
The same applies on their latest LP, Could It Be Different their third in the last five years. Featuring eleven tracks full of spirited guitar work, brash takes on sexuality and relationships brought together with unexpected songwriting, this is the band’s best record, showing so much evolution since Try To Be Hopeful I’m willing to say, their finest so far because. Like a knuckle punch to the arm, this feels like one to grow on.
Opening on “Still Alive” which stands as a middle finger to some imagined detractor, The Spook School shows they have irreverence to burn. “Fuck you I’m still alive” may seem like a peculiar anthem, but it is undeniably powerful. The jangly guitars on “Best of Intentions” are sprightly, an energy which winnows into the more dramatic edge on, “Keep In Touch” which accentuates the band’s dual vocal interplay. The songs where AC Cory provides the lead vocals are the special ones. They lend an autumnal tone that straddles wry and subdued to tracks like “While You Were Sleeping.” When they lean in, singing, “I don’t want to tell you/don’t want to have to tell you” on the chorus, it’s difficult to tear away. On a few tracks, I feel a rapier wit a la Morrissey, in particular on “I Only Dance” which comes off as unabashedly prickly and self-interested but they’re not aping the Pope of Mope. Quite often The Spook School has drawn comparisons to The Buzzcocks, but that feels like an overstatement. While the band tends to play on similar themes and frustrations, they’re less snotty and juvenile, choosing smarter, wittier takes on youthful aggravation.
The Spook School indulges in melancholy on tracks like “Bad Year” but even then they lack self-pity. Instead, the band seems more interested in building a kind of sad sack community,siblings in arms, a legion of embittered souls too smart for their own good. It’s possible, I suppose, to see them staggering out of their flats, hovels and apartments.