Back in 1999, paraphrasing the band’s biggest hit, girls like that didn’t go for guys like the ones in Custard. These days – on the band’s first album since that year’s Loverama – David McCormack laments: “We are the parents our parents warned us about”. Talk about truth in advertising! Once, Custard played dag rock; now they play dad rock. And why shouldn’t they? They are dads, after all.
A comeback record was always going to be a more difficult proposition for Custard than most. That’s because a key part of the band’s appeal was an innocence that often tripped over into a playful sense of anarchy. Their early recordings, especially, are full of the exuberance and abandon that marks one’s late teens and early 20s. And anyone who’s ever grown up knows how difficult that feeling is to recapture.
So, yes: Come Back, All Is Forgiven is the sound of a band that’s matured, at least a bit. Trying to reclaim that innocence wouldn’t have been very, well, sensible. Indeed, it would have made Custard sound silly. From a fan’s point of view, though, enjoying this record might depend on how much they’ve grown up, too – and whether or not they still want Custard to sound silly on their behalf.
To be fair, it’s not as if the band achieved said maturity during their long layoff. Their drummer, Glenn Thompson, reckons this is the album they might have made had they still been together in 2001. That’s probably right, but Custard were already a very different group by then than they were in 1991; some of the joie de vivre that was essential to their DNA had already been lost. They didn’t break up for nothing.
Thankfully, Custard haven’t lost their sense of humour – or irony. On the album’s key track, 1990s (the source of Come Back, All Is Forgiven’s title), McCormack wallows in nostalgia for an ex-girlfriend called Catherine as a metaphor for his band’s return: “OK, OK, I think it’s over.” As pre-emptive strikes go, this is up there with Regurgitator’s I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff.
More importantly, it’s a great tune, with a lilting melody, mid-paced tempo and a lovely, hazy coda that increases the listener’s sense of longing for something you can’t get back. The album’s opener, Orchids In Water, similarly features a lazy groove and an easy country-rock feel that recalls one of McCormack and Thompson’s little-known earlier bands, COW (an acronym for Country or Western).
On We Are The Parents (Our Parents Warned Us About), McCormack throws out this classic Custard line: “We can spell scientist correctly / And know all your local codes, exactly.” This acknowledgment is followed by rueful acceptance: “We must have made a deal with someone up above, or down.” All it needs is a reference to Enrique Iglesias for the circle back to Girls Like That to be complete.
Thompson gets two songwriting credits, for Warren Road and the much spikier (and more arresting) Contemporary Art, a kind of sequel to Music Is Crap, from the band’s 1997 album We Have The Technology – one of several novelty songs that, for many fans, helped define was Custard was all about. It’s also the most rock & roll song on the album, along with the hilarious 65-second thrash of If You Would Like To.
It would have been funnier if Thompson had called it Contemporary Art Is Crap. But that would have sounded desperate – and Custard are not desperate to be anything other than who they are now. Come Back, All Is Forgiven sounds exactly like what it is: four guys in their mid-40s, casually knocking out a bunch of songs most bands half their age would kill for. Just don’t expect to do the Wahooti Fandango to it.
First published in The Guardian, 6 November 2015