Even with a discography characterised by confounding expectations, nothing will prepare listeners for Amazing Things - with its abundance of styles, emotions and pop culture references making for the most combustible powder keg of a record this side of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. It is one of the year’s best albums, and unquestionably the most eccentric.
“I speak for all of us when I say that being considered eccentric is absolutely a compliment,” reveals guitarist Si Delaney. “It suggests that something sounds different - less obvious and more unusual. We’ve always prized ourselves on making music designed to wrong-foot listeners. We’ve definitely taken that desire to the next level too.”
The roots of Amazing Things date back to the latter part of 2018, when Don Broco, in the midst of the lengthy album cycle for Technology, supported Linkin Park legend Mike Shinoda on his 23-date US tour. Despite their arduous workload at that point, the band set themselves the challenge of writing a new song to play at their show at London’s Wembley Arena in February 2019. That song was very nearly Uber. With its Giorgio Moroder style synths and a moody build recalling Nine Inch Nails’ Something I Can Never Have, Uber is one of the album’s many highlights, but for a time the band couldn’t make it work.
“We knew there was something great about the song but it was a track that needed revisiting after we’d all digested it a bit more. We didn’t want to force it and wanted to make sure we got it right and did the meaning of the song justice,” Rob says of the song’s development. “As soon as we had a break from touring later, though, we came back to it and were able to unlock the undiscovered magic.”
Uber’s lyrics were informed by their time in America too, the result of a number of shocking situations the band found themselves in “We had never witnessed racism like this first hand,” explains Rob. “Within the space of a week while we were in the US, there were three occasions that we got taxis when the driver openly shared racist views with us, people they’d just met. In the moment we couldn’t believe it. Each time it happened, we felt more confident in responding to tell them what they were saying was unacceptable but there was still a sense of frustration that we hadn’t said enough. It was important to us to have a song that discussed those issues. Musically, too, Uber is a song that bridges the gap from Technology to Amazing Things.”
Technology (with a small ‘t’) played a key role on Amazing Things, with the band writing the majority of the record on lengthy Zoom sessions during lockdown, before decamping to Suffolk’s Decoy Studios at the end of last summer to complete it. “You can only take a song to a certain point,” Rob says of the limitations of working online. “Being on a screen for eight hours a day isn’t healthy, so by the time we got to the studio and were in a room together in the middle of beautiful countryside, it felt like an escape.”
The band were under the watchful eye of Jason Perry, who produced the band’s second album Automatic (2015). “He’s been on a journey with us,” reveals Si. “On Automatic, we’d given him the brief that we’d wanted to make a polished pop-rock record, which we succeeded in creating. This time, however, we’d told him we wanted something wild that threw everything at the listener, bringing lots of our weirder elements to the fore.”
For evidence that the mission was a success, look no further than the first taste of the album. While lead singles traditionally cleave close to what a band has done before, as a way to safely transition into a new chapter, that’s not the case with Manchester Super Reds No. 1 Fan – its raging, unpredictable structure the result of from a band striving to enter unchartered territory. ‘’Our goal was to deliver these very deliberate, jolting shifts that we’ve never done before.”
And despite drummer Matt Donnelly being a Manchester United devotee, the song isn’t actually about love for the club, but the darker side of fandom. “I wanted to write something about an aspect of social media culture I’d really noticed in the last year,” explains Rob. “Of people tearing other people down, with much of that destructive negativity coming from the supposed fans of bands and teams. In football, you get these ultra fans who go way beyond the point of criticism into cruel, unadulterated bullying.”
So why ‘that’ title specifically? “It was very much a placeholder vocal,” the singer says of the gruff lyric ‘Manchester Super Reds No.1 Fan’. “I figured we’d work something out later, so I’d just shout something in the meantime. The morning before that day in the studio, I’d been helping my parents declutter their house, which was mostly stuff from when I was a kid. In one of the many boxes was this old, definitely unofficial Manchester United keyring, which my dad had got me when I was young. I brought it in for Matt, as he’s still a fan, then I saw the words ‘Manchester Super Reds No.1 Fan’, so I decided to shout that on the track. As soon as I recorded it we knew it had to stay.”
Opening track Gumshield similarly explores the pitfalls of social media, specifically the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t nature of taking a position on issues online. “You could put something out there that’s discredited minutes later, or wrong, and get people sending hate. Or you could say nothing, which to others is just as bad. The gumshield of the title is about the idea of trying to protect yourself from those onslaughts.” The song’s refrain finds Rob calmly announcing ‘Yes I’m angry and I’m disappointed’ before dishing out furious threats, which not only articulates the frustrations felt by those on both sides of an argument, but provides a beatdown in the mould of Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff and Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name.
Bruce Willis, meanwhile, starts as a laid back acoustic number before going somewhere infinitely weirder, and was born from Rob’s surprise that no one had utilised the notorious Die Hard catchphrase “Yippee-Ki-Yay, motherfucker” in song. “It’s so iconic that I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t immortalised it on record before, so we corrected that.”
With tracks about an app-based taxi company, ferocious fans, and Hollywood action stars, it’s fair to say Amazing Things doesn’t have a central theme like its predecessor, Technology. It’s governed by an overarching emotion, though. “It definitely feels angrier than the music we’ve written before,” admits Rob. “That anger was fuelled by the anxiety that came from a year of uncertainty. Not being on tour meant more time spent reading the news, feeling a sense of despair, not knowing our place in the world.”
“As a group of guys, we try our best to be positive and always look to make the best of a shitty situation,” explains Rob. “We’re always wondering: if something is terrible about your life or the world, what can you do to make it better? Even the songs on Amazing Things that don’t find a light at the end of the tunnel, they at least touch on thoughts and feelings that exorcise demons sufficiently enough to have a positive effect.”
Admittedly that desire to find a silver lining was tested to its limits at times, resulting in the more sensitive side of Amazing Things. On How Are You Done With Existing?, Rob shares the frustration he felt when a period of ill health left his father mentally defeated. “From a selfish perspective, I couldn’t believe that, for a time, he thought he had nothing to live for. I couldn’t believe he seemed ready to move on from this world, feeling he’d lost the fight within himself.”
Closing track Easter Sunday is a song that’s heavier for its meaning than its music - dealing, in part, with Matt’s father losing three brothers in the space of a month in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s an emotional song for me to listen back to and be reminded of those days,” reflects Matt. “It was such a scary time and seeing how much damage it had done to my family made me fear how bad it was going to get for everyone else.”
Given the horrors of the past 12 months, of lives lost or irreversibly changed, Don Broco consider themselves lucky to still be here, with an album they’re immensely proud of. And despite Amazing Things being born during a time of turbulence, setting pain, confusion, aggrievance and disappointment to captivating music, the band has emerged supercharged from the experience. And you will be too listening to it. Amazing Things awaits.