Pity the poor bassist who leaves a band for a solo venture on the eve of his former group’s big breakthrough. For such is the fate of Gabriel Stebbing, frontman of Night Works and former bass/keys man in thoughtful, wonky electropop merchants Metronomy.
He left Joseph Mount’s group to focus on his brittle, arty guitar band Your Twenties two years before Metronomy got nominated for a Mercury for the excellent "The English Riviera", an sonic tribute to Steely Dan and '70s studio rock filtered through a love letter to the West Country. The last time I saw Metronomy play at London, it was at Brixton Academy. Tonight, the sweatbox of the Barfly is, while respectably full, not exactly rammed for Stebbing's new venture, Night Works.
And yet he looks delighted, suavely bobbing his head (complete with guitar face) through the groovy bits, pumped through the poppy bits, and working his pastel pink blazer like there’s never been a ’90s.
Because, yes, Night Works are yet another ‘80s-obsessed guitar-pop band with electronic tendencies. Before you cast them into that particular surplus mountain of the mind, though, know this: their songcraft is a cut above, which is particularly apparent live, where guitars and bass feel more at the core of the tunes. Also, rather than sticking purely to the well-established touchstones of hipster Hall & Oates and hipster Prince, it throws a new element into the mix: hipster Prefab Sprout!
This works, on the smooth, sweet "Modern European" so much better than you might imagine, and that modernist guitar pop heart is what lifts Night Works above your average retro synthpop stylist.
The twinkling "Boys Born In Modern Times", though its synths tend towards the 80s-fetishism of Neon Neon, is resolutely melody-focused, while "Nathaniel" is a return to the Sprout at their dreamiest, all pastel-toned and winsome. It’s all most agreeable, loveable even, if not exactly road-to-Damascus stuff.
The most interesting moment comes at the end, where, after mentioning Jack Savidge from Friendly Fires (a man who knows his dance) making an upcoming appearance at their club night, Stebbing closes with a version of "Long Forgotten Boy" that eases its angular rhythms out into an expansive groove with distinct disco touches, morphing into something oddly reminiscent of Moloko’s Balearic blissout period. It suggests a life for Night Works’ well-honed songs beyond pastel pastiche. He should definitely hang on to that pink blazer, though.