Two years and six months ago when their fourth album arrived, the band spoke of how – after the more serene, lush, different sounding Freedom Run (2011) – they had “started to miss that original Rifles sound a lot”: hence the inclusion of a clutch of new tunes in what you might term the classic mould. But looking back at that record, even with that mindset, ‘None The Wiser’ was also full of adventure, evident in the likes of ‘You Win Some’ and the closing eight minute epic ‘Under And Over’. Even when they are going back to basics, it seems, The Rifles can’t help but move forward.
And that is very much the spirit in which The Rifles are continuing, and in which their new record is anchored. You only have to glance at the tracklist to notice this. Because in an era in which we are repeatedly told that the album is dying, Big Life is a not just an album, but a double album of four sides and eighteen songs. And the reason for this is simple.
There can’t be many other bands in the UK with as fervent a fanbase as The Rifles. They can still play, 12 years after they formed, to thousands of people in plenty of towns all over the country. They’re still not on the radio, they’re still not all over magazines, and yet they continue to be more adored than many other younger bands who are. And it is the trust that their audience has in them which inspires them to do things like ‘Big Life’: an expansive, incredibly varied record – or two records – that is the sound of a band at the absolute peak of their creativity.
After two listens, the chiming, up guitars and direct grooves of ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Radio Nowhere’ – the two opening songs – will be lodged in your head forever: brief blasts of new wave pop perfection that have an effortlessness which only comes from not overthinking things too much, and getting what’s inside a songwriter’s head out in as pure a form as possible. They are the sound of a band confident in who they are and what they are good at, operating outside the influence or reporting of fleeting trends and fashions.
Similarly, you could be tempted to take a line from ‘Jonny Was A Friend Of Mine’ (“We started up our own little band, and we got signed, and we’re still around”) as being a subtle kind of two fingered salute to all the much-more-hyped bands who, in the 12 years since The Rifles formed, turned it in as soon as the music press stopped caring. But no. It’s not. Again, it’s much more simple than that. As well as being about youthful friendships of old, it’s the sound of a man just overjoyed to still be doing what he loves doing for a living. As Joel says: “The songs a true story. We did start up our own little band, and we are still around!”
Amongst the long term fans who have facilitated The Rifles still being around is one very famous one: Mr Paul Weller. His influence on their music has been evident from their very first songs, and he has been an amazing mentor and sometime collaborator, but he has also long helped out the band in more practical ways, with ‘Big Life’ being no exception.
On that score, mission accomplished. It’s hard to think of a band more operating on their own terms, more outside of any sphere of influence, and more still alive than the Rifles do on Big Life. And that is their own, unique triumph.