Tender Trap - 6 Billion People

matcd040  /  May 2006
Tender Trap - 6 Billion People
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Tender Trap - 6 Billion People

matcd040  /  May 2006

Twenty years on from the NME’s legendary C86 cassette, with anniversary shows featuring key artists planned at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and a Bob Stanley-produced documentary in the works, Tender Trap’s new album is striking proof that some of the original protagonists of that movement are still making intelligent and engaging pop music. As lead singer of the seminal Talulah Gosh, the proto-riot grrrl Heavenly and the classy pop act Marine Research, Amelia Fletcher was the voice and face that launched a thousand fanzines, an iconic presence whose influence can be traced in bands as diverse as Le Tigre and Belle and Sebastian. Together with her cohort in the latter two of those bands, Rob Pursey (guitar), and Marine Research drummer John Stanley aka DJ Downfall (bass), Tender Trap formed in 2001, releasing one album to date, the coolly electronic ‘Film Molecules’.

With the addition of the crisp drumming of The Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson, ‘6 Billion People’ marks a move away from the pared-down approach of its predecessor towards a sound recalling the best of the band's previous incarnations. This is immediately evident on the big chorused title track, Rob Pursey’s sub-sonic backing vocals uncannily reminiscent of erstwhile collaborator Calvin Johnson, while recent single 'Talking Backwards' is a pop rush of shimmering guitars and mellifluous vocals and ‘I Would Die For You’ marries a chugging rhythm to an ethereal melody. The short-but-spiky ‘Applecore’ ups the sass quotient as Amelia demands answers from an indecisive lover to a series of oblique questions over a stop-start bassline, whereas the spacey-keyboard sounds of 'Fahrenheit 451', the heartfelt '(I Always Love You When I'm) Leaving You' and the haunting album closer 'Dead and Gone' lend the album variety and depth.

‘6 Billion People’ is Tender Trap’s most fully realised work to date, a collection of sumptuous tunes and bold arrangements that makes a claim to be one of the best pop albums of the year. Perfect for fans of The Concretes, The Magnetic Fields, Le Tigre, and C86 indiepop.

  1. 6 Billion People
  2. Talking Backwards
  3. Inuit Beauty Queen
  4. I Would Die For You
  5. Applecore
  6. Fahrenheit 451
  7. Ampersand
  8. (I Always Love You When I’m) Leaving You
  9. Dreaming of Dreaming
  10. Dead and Gone


For their first album since 2002's Film Molecules, Tender Trap decided to move away from the use of drum programs and replace them with live drums, calling in Magnetic Fields member Claudia Gonson to add her simple but powerful drumming style to their sound. This seemingly minor choice makes a world of difference on 2006's 6 Billion People. Film Molecules sometimes suffered from being overly cold and mechanical, here the live drums provide some warmth and flexibility. The subtle electronic touches and quirky arrangements remain but they are grounded in warmth. And in really strong songs with sharp hooks as Amelia Fletcher amazingly manages to show no drop-off in songwriting quality after 20+ years in the indie pop game. The best songs here like 6 Billion People, Ampersand, Talking Backwards and the lovely, sad Dead and Gone rank with her best moments with Talulah Gosh and Heavenly. Fletcher's voice too is as sweet and poignant as ever but somehow more rich and experienced sounding. It fits perfectly with the indie pop with an adult twist sound she and her band mates have come up with on 6 Billion People. It is indie pop for grown-ups that manages to keep all the sweetness but adds some real emotion to go along. Here's to another 20+ years!   --All Music Guide
I feel as if I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding Amelia Fletcher. I was no fan of shambling twee Britpop—not Fletcher’s immediate ‘80s predecessors in the Pastels nor her own first stab at winsomeness with the girly Talulah Gosh. Nor was I a fan of the band’s born of Talulah Gosh’s loins—not Heavenly, not Marine Research. Sorry, I hate cute. By the time we got to Tender Trap and its 2005 EP ‘Language Lessons’—recorded 19 years after Fletcher’s start—I had pretty much given up hope of ever liking the wispy singer with wispier lyrical intentions. That all changed upon hearing ‘6 Billion People’, which features gutsier, un-cute vocals and her take on crisp, snappy new wave. Now we’re talking. Mind you, it’s not as if Tender Trap is Fletcher’s Sunno))). She still “da-doo-doo”s and “hey-hey”s her way through ditzy pop tunes that find her sitting in galleries and going on hikes. But at least she’s hiking in Thailand. When she dumbly quizzes her beau as to how long he’d cry if she died, she quickly declares it a joke before it gets twee and corny. And she makes it all so infectiously melodic and hip shaking and laced with the sort of thick harmonies to go with her thin voice. Songs such as the quickly swinging ‘Applecore’ and the slowly whirring, growling ‘Fahrenheit 451’ are pretty irresistible. Twee wasn’t ever this good, was it?   --Magnet Magazine
If indiepop’s über-girl Amelia Fletcher ever publishes her autobiography—and she really should, as an inspiration for so many bands for so long she must have a pretty unique perspective on the changing musical tides—she should call it “How To Remain A Girl And Not Die In The Attempt.” This distaff Peter Pan first made her mark in 1986 with girl-group paradigms Talulah Gosh, and her distinctive gurgling, sighing teen cutie-pie voice is still startlingly intact from those days. With this second Tender Trap outing, there is, however, a lot less butterfly naivety and more motherly world-weariness; even a certain sagely sadness evinced on the more downbeat numbers ‘I Would Die For You’ and ‘Dead and Gone.’ The electronic sketch songs of their 2001 debut have given way to a more relaxed, bubblegum garage band sound, with the Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson on drums and backing vocals. Sly pop dispatches from the dating game ‘Talking Backwards’ and ‘Ampersand’ are as refreshingly infectious and as downright fab as anything she’s done in the past. Respect is entirely due.   --Plan B Magazine
For the benefit of those who haven’t been paying attention, Tender Trap is the current incarnation of the 20-year pop splendor fest that began with Amelia Fletcher’s ovarial punk-pop phenomenon Talulah Gosh. Yes, that’s right, “ovarial”. It’s the riot grrl equivalent of “seminal”, OK? I could write ten thousand words about Amelia—and I probably have—without ever capturing the simple charm at the heart of her work. So let’s just say that she can sing about almost anything and still make you smile like a loon. And then, add that to those rare occasions when her subject matter confounds even her infectious sense of joy, and she reveals instead an uncanny ability to touch places that even the greatest singers rarely find. Influenced across the decades by the girl groups of the ‘60s, the art-punk of the ‘70s, the indie-pop of the ‘80s, and the electronic pop of the ‘90s, 6 Billion People is Tender Trap’s long awaited second album. It’s also the one that sees them largely lose the electronic experimentation of 2002’s Film Molecules and veer back towards the more classical pop thrills that defined the earlier Heavenly. It’s a reversal that’s underlined by the return of real drums, courtesy of a special guest star, the Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson, who also supplies some backing vocals. The first unwritten rule of pop dictates that all the best pop albums open with their title track. See, for example: The Queen Is Dead, Never Mind The Bollocks, and Physical Graffiti. Tender Trap’s new album complies with rule one, of course, and “6 Billion People” is a nifty construction that offers both a testament to the impossibility of finding your perfect match in a world that is, frankly, very big, and a collection of Amelia’s best dating tips for indie geek grrls: Go shopping at midnight. Spend your weekends in art galleries. Hang out at punk shows. Or start your own band—a technique that’s certainly rocked gangbusters for Amelia. Subverting the norm with hands-free irony, the second song on 6 Billion People is “Talking Backwards”, which was the original title for the album. It was a narrow escape from a sequencing crime against the pop rules for which we should all be extremely grateful. Anyhoo, “Talking Backwards” is excellent. It boasts all the classic multi-tracked Fletcher vocals, adds backing vocals that go “ba ba ba” in all the right places, explores the awkwardness of an inexpressible crush, and appropriates a line or two from Morrissey to boot. All in all, it’s a rousing girly guitar-pop joy that takes at least ten years off the soul. And yet it’s bittersweet to the core. The bottom line here is that while our anorexic protagonist can carve her crushboy’s name into her arm with a fountain pen, she can’t summon up the nerve to talk to him. And hey! he might not be real anyway. This bittersweet quality runs through much of Amelia’s writing, and all of 6 Billion People. Built on a combination of piping electronics, a pulsing rhythm and an occasional emphatically strummed chord, “Inuit Beauty Queen” tells an exotic story of mundane spousal abuse with a tragic twist. “I Would Die For You” is a happy little pop confection that hints at a relationship built on lies, and violence, and an obsession with death and murder; yet to lazy ears, it’s simply a sweet and catchily exaggerated proclamation of love. Elsewhere, the politics of relationships are danced around the houses. Lovers with commitment issues are taken to task in “Applecore”, a typical latterday Heavenly song made fresh by popcorn bass and mention of Led Zeppelin. “Fahrenheit 451” follows an elusively familiar musical pattern as it describes a cosy domestic situation in which Amelia would have to set fire to her lover’s book to get him to look at her and deal with their relationship. “(I Only Love You When I’m) Leaving You” speaks for itself, presented in the dramatic pop style that Marc Almond all but patented. And “Ampersand” is both a statement of individuality and a refusal to become defined as part of an Official Couple, which ships complete with an awesome kickass chorus. No matter what the subject, images of death and decay permeate 6 Billion People—in quite the nicest way, of course. Taken as a whole, it seems to express a sweetly personal and existential coming of age, where the transition is not from adolescence to adulthood, but rather from adulthood to parenthood. The album’s penultimate track is “Dreaming of Dreaming”. Emotionally, it reeks of confusion and disorientation at the passing of time. Musically, while it’s very much a Tender Trap song, its chord sequences and metre changes recall no-one so much as Black Sabbath (no, seriously!), and much of the rest speaks directly to my love of the Only Ones. The eighth unwritten rule of pop requires all aspirant pop gods and goddesses to end their great pop album on an upbeat, hook-laden high. Tender Trap, however, have day jobs. Consequently, “Dead and Gone” is morbid to the bone, despite its uplifting chorus. It moves from gentle dirge to VU-lite rhythms to chorus and back again while Amelia investigates the brutally sudden awareness of her own mortality that comes as, yes, the bittersweet flipside to parenthood. It’s been four long years since Film Molecules. With two young daughters and two demanding careers to support, it’s hard to see Rob and Amelia rushing out a third Tender Trap album any time soon. So let’s just be grateful they found the time and inspiration to record 6 Billion People. By my reckoning, their next record will be a punk pop thrash about problematical relationships, domestic abuse, and the conflict between principle and the need to put your children in the very best school your money can buy. Peter Pan and Billie Joe Armstrong can stay young forever. For everyone else, there’s Tender Trap.   --Pop Matters
“Annie Hall or Amélie?” demands “Applecore” of some feckless shambler, plotting that niche iconic spectrum where you’ll find Amelia Fletcher, gamine headgirl of UK indiepop for two decades now. For the second album in their 21st century incarnation, her group has drafted in The Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson on drums and brought new vim to the prim jangle that’s served them sturdily since 1986. But the record is defined by a new sense of mortality on “I Would Die For You” and, especially, the closing “Dead and Gone”, which darkly ponders what happens when indie kids grow old.   --Uncut Magazine
The mighty Tender Trap return after a lengthy gap with their second album. And it’s a beauty. Less synth-heavy than their debut, ‘6 Billion People’ has hints of Kenickie-esque guitar pop, especially in the single, ‘Talking Backwards’. Elsewhere, Amelia’s voice remains as unique as ever, especially on tracks such as ‘Inuit Beauty Queen’ which toys with your pop antennae without really ever exploding, but is all the better for the tease. Similarly, ‘I Would Die For You’, on which Amelia’s voice is at its innocent best, skirts around wonderfully without ever smacking you between the eyes. And I like that. If only the awkward buggers would play outside of London sometime, then I’d be totally happy. As it is, I’ll have to make do with ‘6 Billion People’, and make no mistake – it’s one of the best pop albums you’ll hear this year.   --Tasty
Given the cult obsession surrounding Amelia Fletcher and her twee-pop affluence, a palpatable buzz can be felt from the mere mention of the name Tender Trap. By following a two-decade timeline, one will find a snowballing career of prestige and name-game collaboration. What started as the simple and energetic Talulah Gosh in 1986 turned into the increasingly seminal Heavenly three years later. The band put an end to their seven successful years together after the tragic loss of brother and drummer Mathew Fletcher, and Heavenly made the transition to the clean-cut Marine Research in 1997. With an unsurpassable strength and inspiring intensity, Amelia Fletcher and her musical crew have held steady in a continual state of evolution since the beginning. Returning from a four-year hibernation with their sophomore album, 6 Billion People, the remaining members are back and as charming as ever. This time, Fletcher, John Stanley, and Rob Pursey are joined by the Magnetic Fields' Claudia Ganson on drums and backing vocals. Sweetly engaging from the opening chords and "do ahh's," an immediate dose of indie-pop is enough to prompt the unfamiliar listener into a giddy fix of cycling songs on repeat with an urgent need to gather as much of the twenty year back catalog as possible, stuck with the thought, "Where has this music been all my life?" Throwing passion into their songs, the trio has reverted to a purer pop sound than their electronically dominated previous release. Fletcher's heartbreakingly melodic voice and masterful motherly wisdom pairs perfectly with foot-tapping hooks, adding a depth of understanding to a whirlwind of sentiments while thoroughly pondering the mysteries of love and life. Sitting on the lap of anti-love ballads are advice columns for young lovers, fits of self-mutilation in the name of love and declarations like "I would die for you," as common thoughts of insecurity and loneliness push their way through the crowd. Something to which one can relate is found tucked in each rhyme and thoughtful line. On the opening title track, a chorus of advice on "How to find the perfect one for you" is given to a doo-woppy beat, perfect to sing in your head while on the search for a mate: "One: go shopping at midnight," "Two: work in a cafe," "Three: spend days in art galleries," "Four: form a band and go play." As a picture perfect antithesis of over-produced, attention-starved musicians making themselves into pop-churning machines year after year, Tender Trap exhibits a personal and vulnerable persona through their endearing ditties. In a variety of fine-tuned perfection, edgier tracks like "Dreaming of Dreaming" and "Applecore," with pounding bass lines, crisp, hard guitar and raucous, sassy vocals are held up by a backbone of catchiness while allowing for a bit of fist-pumping and angsty head-bobbing. Filling the listener with fond feelings of intimacy, like a gift made with love by a younger sibling, is the straight-forward synth pop of "Inuit Beauty Queen" and the swaying vintage beach-side feel of tracks like "Ampersand," not to mention the crooning ballad "Fahrenheit 451." From somber and self-effacing to sweet and cradling, 6 Billion People consistently exhibits a heartfelt blending of unadulterated excitement with bittersweet undertones. Once settled in to the coagulating sugary substance that is Tender Trap, an element of earned tightness becomes apparent, not to mention glee. Tender Trap is one of those too-few anomalies; a band that has the uncanny ability to make themselves, as well as their audience, happy through their music. Rating: 8.5   --Urban Pollution
Twee pop emerged in England in the ‘80s and groups like Talulah Gosh and Heavenly helped the genre flourish. Amelia Fletcher was the lead singer of the aforementioned groups and now has moved on to yet another band, the cuddly Tender Trap comprised also of Rob Pursey and John Stanley. Formed in 2001, Tender Trap’s first album was 2002’s Film Molecules followed by this year’s Language Lessons EP. They record upbeat yet minimal pop songs with an undertone of desolation to them. The best thing about Tender Trap is how Fletcher’s lyrics ascend with 69 Love Songs wryness. The title track opens the terse album introducing Fletcher’s confectionary vocals and musings on finding the right person in a world filled with so many people. At times the lyrics are quite specific: “Five go hiking in Thailand / Six have chats on eBay.” Several of the tracks, including the next one, “Talking Backwards,” integrate catchy bah bah’s and ahh’s. It is a shimmering song with universal themes like being too tongued-tied to talk to your crush. “I Would Die For You” hits morbid territory with Fletcher rhetorically asking, “If I were to die / How long would you cry?” and goes on to say, “Six feet underground / Where true love is found” — all created with dulcet harmonies. In the latter part of the record, Fletcher’s voice begins to evoke Deborah Harry especially on “(I Always Love You When I’m) Leaving You” as the music becomes slightly discordant. But, Tender Trap salvages its sweetness and momentum with the denouncement, “Dead and Gone” when dreamy melodies usurp ambivalent lyrics: “Dead and gone / All the dreams and all the fears I have for you, disappear” and “I won’t ever know if you care.” Tender Trap may not uphold the regalities of Fletcher’s former projects, but the lyrics alone are worth discovering.   --Venus Magazine