Sometimes it’s hard to believe The School frontwoman and lyricist Liz Hunt is an actual human being. The angelic frisson conjured up by her blemish-free vocal puts her in a euphoric world so remote from ours, it’s hard to associate normal bodily functions with her, let alone bad morning breath. How could something that sounds so infernally sweet ever be plagued by the mundanities visited upon the real world?
And with The School’s third album, Wasting Away & Wondering, longtime fans of the group (I have my four-year badge) might well say it’s their best (following 2010’s Loveless Unbelieverand 2012’s Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything).
Liz and the rest of the Welsh octet (Ryan, Harri, Fran, Kay, Steph, Andy and an oscillating drummer currently appearing to be Kit) wear their ’60s girl-group musical references very much on their A-line skirts and slim-fit jackets: a flourish of taut strings here, a Motown thump and crash there, a Northern soul stomp, a Shangri-Las Leader of the Pack twang, all wrapped in breathless harmonies of the joyous kind. Yet somehow it never comes off as pastiche or homage – it’s simply just the real thing.
And what The School have achieved on their third album is to produce 12 shimmering classics – whereas their previous two albums, though towering works of pop lusciousness, had the odd throwaway track. Not so Wasting Away and Wondering. Each track is essential.
The pop melodies and lyrics never stray too far from a simple template, but somehow the simplicity just makes the recipe that much more infectious. Each do-do-do-do-do and aaaah sweeps you further along into a world where you’re walking pavements in the sunshine, twirling the edge of your jumper on your finger, gazing aimlessly at the sky and feeling totally alive.
There are plenty upbeat stompers (Every Day, Love is Anywhere You Find It, Wasting Away & Wondering, Do I Love You, I Will See You Soon), bittersweet melancholia (All I Want From You Is Everything, Don’t Worry Baby I Don’t Love You Any More), midtempo finger-snappers to provide breathing space and balance the tempo (Til You Belong to Me), and the odd downbeat alternative moment (He’s Gonna Break Your Heart One Day).
Stand-out lush moment Put Your Hand in Mine (channelling Vanessa Paradis channelling Motown via 1992’s Be My Baby) features the most delicious major to minor switch ever, and ends in the best fadeout-chorus tradition, giving the impression that the track is on a loop to infinity, which is basically what you want. The School have tapped into that magical, addictive aspect of pop – the rare quality of not wanting the music to end. Ever.
But end the album finally does, on a rousing singalong with multiple voices (My Arms, They Feel Like Nothing) that is almost all glorious chorus.
Fans of horn blower Fran will not be disappointed – there are plenty signature trumpet solos to keep you happy. And Harri’s twinkling glockenspiel keeps things fairy-pretty at all times.
Two tracks available only on the All I Want From You Is Everything EP (Baby Don’t Hold Your Breath for Me – the greatest kiss-off Jessica Rabbit never recorded – and a woozy, slightly scary, cover of Carole King’s Crying in the Rain), round out this latest clutch of classics from one of pop’s finest current bands. You’ll want that EP to complete the set.
Dear Pop Gods: please don’t let The School break up anytime soon. I want and need at least 10 more albums like this.