For all aspiring Mod bands, the choice is a stark one: you either aim to be the new Jam or face the heinous consequences; that being the possibility of ending up as the new Ocean Colour Scene.
On the face of it, it shouldn’t be that hard. Take a look at the unfair world around you, work yourself up into a state about dole queues and teenage mothers, write down your angst in venomous prose and then stick a choppy guitar riff behind it. In reality, however, it’s a tad harder to portray the authenticity of a generational mouthpiece if you don’t have the anger. You need to mean it, man.
The Rifles have the necessary, observational lyrics and pogo-inducing tunes in spades. The sold-out crowd in Le Botanique’s Rotunde respond deliriously to familiar hot steppers such as She’s Got Standards, Local Boy and Spend a Lifetime and cook up a sweaty storm to new tracks from latest album Great Escape. Both band and crowd move seamlessly between new and old material; the mainly male audience bellows out the words to Science in Violence as easily as reciting the chorus to the insanely catchy One Night Stand from the Rifles’ debut album.
And therein lies the problem with the Rifles. It all sounds so safely the same. There’s no danger. They lack that essential quality which separates the Paul Wellers from the Simon Fowler’s: anger. It’s okay to bark about knife crime and inner-city violence in Narrow Minded Social Club but when singer Joel Stoker delivers his treatise on modern Britain, there’s plenty of skill but no fire. It’s like having the front page of the Daily Mirror sung to you by four nice blokes in bowling shoes and Trilby’s.
For those in attendance tonight, however, the fact the Rifles have so far failed to evolve matters not. The band are preaching to the Fred Perry-clad converted. The lads down the front who still dream of scooter rallies and seaside punch-ups don’t care if the Rifles remain efficiently formulaic, churning out shedloads of tuneful yet interchangeable albums of Mod rock.
The Rifles are clinically professional in their look, their delivery and their product but they lack the heart which is why, in football terms, they’ll always be battling with the likes of Hard-Fi for a place in the play-offs while aggro-scamps like The Enemy will string the necessary results together to get promoted to the big league. All of which suggests their destiny is more likely to yield a Moseley Shoals than an All Mod Cons.