New Labour in song form, about as dangerous as The One Show and possessing of an energy that was all a bit “dinner party round at Jamie Oliver’s”, Lighthouse Family were the drowsy flip-side of Britpop cool in the 1990s. They were beloved by estate agents and politicians but mocked by everyone else. It wasn’t entirely unfair – particularly in an era where even Simply Red acquired a soupcon of edge, courtesy of Mick Hucknall’s rampant bed-hopping. But it also did something of a disservice to a band who could do something deceptively hard to do: produce anthemic earworms that tunnelled into your brain regardless of how hard you resisted.
Unusually, Lighthouse Family make more sense as an act in 2019 than they did in 1995, the year they released their signature track “Lifted” and soundtracked everyone’s long car journeys for at least a few summers after that. Blue Sky in Your Head, the band’s first album in 18 years, isn’t a sonic fit for today, with its piano-led breeziness, back-up singers chanting in unison and cheery bossa nova uplift. But the band certainly feels aesthetically similar to the acts that have come to dominate the UK charts in recent years, with the likes of Tom Grennan or Tom Walker occupying a similarly middle-of-the-road, unashamedly unexceptional corner of the UK music scene. And this time, with no Pulp or Suede sneering at them in the background.
Tunde Baiyewu’s distinct vocals remain Lighthouse Family’s saving grace, full of careful enunciation and husky ease. And it’s a voice that manages to sell songwriter/producer Paul Tucker’s uniformly trite lyrics, with their banal enthusiasm for the “glory days” on “Save Me Now”, or the self-help rhyming couplets on “Immortal”: “When nobody is coming around/ And everything is getting you down/ I hope you know it ain’t gonna last forever.”
The question of why Lighthouse Family have returned to music isn’t particularly answered here, with the album’s more overt references to modern ills (“Does anyone care for anyone?/ Does anyone care for people at all?”) just as weightless as the lyrics in its more upbeat love songs. But the band’s steadfast commitment to form does speak to a newfound cultural eagerness to embrace the sickly positivity of the past rather than reject it, so reminiscent as it is of a time where things didn’t seem quite as hard. It’s probably not healthy to swim in such empty nostalgia, but it’ll be a lifeline for many.
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