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And The Boyfriends (Independent)

Don’t tell him we know, but Brendan MacLean is way more sensitive than a man with that facial hair is meant to be.

It may look like he’d deny it furiously, flamboyantly even. That’s the MacLean way surely, given his calling card is doing everything with a flourish that wouldn’t disgrace the end of a Tonya Harding routine. And that goes double for his pop songs which zing like those lollies that explode on your tongue (Pop Rocks?) used to.

Brazen and bare chested (and bare much much more if you’ve seen his filmclip for House Of Air – whoo baby, lock up your fathers and brothers!), happy to be snarky when it suits him and lusty when it takes him, Maclean seems to stride into the world like he does into your Twitter stream: full on.

That much is suggested with the opening tracks of this new album, Hibernia and Where’s The Miracle. First up, a suburban disco warm-up par excellence, Hibernia has the cocky swagger of someone who walks into a room like he’s walking onto a yacht (probably to an internal soundtrack of the Bee Gees), coasting on some early ‘80s synths, even more ‘80s guitars, and a delivery that feels like it’s tossed off over his shoulder as he exits. Flamboyantly.

The more lyrically pointed Where’s The Miracle affects a harder tone – “and you don’t want to know where my head is at” - the urgency of the chorus (think Billy Idol and the female half of the B-52s in holy matrimony) having the rhythmic push that’s threatening throughout the verses, and the deliberately simplistic guitar break a little bit of new wave snottiness.

But even as MacLean declares, with more threat than cool, “I’m not too stoned for you to fuck with” in the leaning back into the slow groove Not Too Stoned, the cracks in this brusque exterior are beginning to show. Because the truth is MacLean is not just more inclined to letting his defences down, he revels in it, exposing a heart that’s ready to be heartbroken – or claimed - and exposing a facility for a heart-crushing tune along the way.

The luminous Goes Without Saying, tinged with both emotional and physical weariness, may tip its hat to a certain type of Brat Pack movie ballad that demands excess (the ‘80s sounds on the album, such as this song’s snapped snare and airy keyboards, are really tripping all kinds of memories) but it actually stays under control.

Tenderness, which is as domestic and close in its sounds as it is in its mini-Tim Winton narrative, ends out of nowhere because you’re seduced into assuming you’re getting a novel rather than a short story, a musical completion rather than effectively an introduction. The shock is delicious.

With the dual voices of the grand Layer On The Love (“You’re like America, command and conquer/You’re like America, how’s your wife … you just want somebody to love/It’s hard to say no to that”) and the swirling mood of Wolf Run (“No comes to look, when you’re in love with the wolf.”), the album ends on a mid-tempo, more energised, if hardly exuberant note. Maybe a touch more assertive note.

But by this stage, more familiar with the MacLean front of toughness as rather a facade, a listener can sense the agitation – and need – within, rather than being misdirected by things like the prodding synth buzz and urging drum rolls, in Wolf Run, or the scattered background percussion, in Layer On The Love.

You may suggest otherwise Brendan MacLean, but we see you, and your vulnerabilities. And your strengths.

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