Cheap Girls – God’s Ex-Wife Collection (Asian Man Records, 2016)

Cheap Girls are heavily respected in the inner sanctum of the melodic emo/punk world. By some people I know, they’re held in as great esteem as lofty peers such as Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids. I have seen them live before and they sounded great – plenty of power and zip and these big hooks that really swing down and pick you off the floor. For these reasons combined I’ve been looking forward to giving this new record a spin.

I say new, but God’s Ex-Wife is of course a collection of rarities, b-sides and cuttings from the studio floor. I guess some people consider these sort of records as only for the fans, but I feel like they can give a really strong indication of the standards a band sets for themselves. If this album rocks then I’m going to be listening to all of their A-game records pretty sharpish.

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The first two tracks on offer here didn’t quite convince me. They were exceptionally performed from an instrumental point of view, and singer Ian Graham’s voice has a real warmth and craft to it, drawing heavily from Josh Caterer of The Smoking Popes. However, I felt with both ‘Better Thoughts Instead’ and ‘Twice As Much’ there was no reveal – they throw everything at you at the same time and there’s no patience for the tracks to develop.

‘Dim Lights’ changed things. This displayed some of those wonderfully bound-together melodies I remember from the live experience, which playfully ripple through your system with the craft of Ben Folds or They Might Be Giants. The way the different parts of the track are pinned together is a joy to behold, always maintaining momentum so verses and choruses trickle into each other deliciously.

The quality remains high for three or four tracks. ‘7-8 Years’ is wonderfully self-deprecating, yet somehow joyous in the way it bowls along, finding liberation in Graham’s honesty. It includes the wonderful couplet “And have you seen a smile look like a frown? Be sure to piss on it before you turn it down.” Meanwhile ‘Gone All Summer’ is a sumptuous acoustic track. The chords are so simple and the vocals do the work, deep as they are with emotion and resonance.

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The disappointment is that after this core of excellence, the rest of the album trails off, reverting back to the weaknesses that characterised the beginning. There are a few moments of redemption here and there such as the great chorus on ‘Stop Now’ but the trend that runs through the remaining tracks is that they have all almost all the qualities required except the absolutely vital one – structure.

I’m going to give Cheap Girls the benefit of the doubt and explore their other albums on the basis of the better parts of God’s Ex-Wife rather than boycott them based on the worst bits. I’m hoping that this means that whilst I haven’t heard a great record, I’ve discovered a great band. 6/10

You can listen to a stream on the Cheap Girls bandcamp here.

You can grab up the vinyl from Asian Man Records here.

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