The Slow Readers Club – Knowledge Freedom Power: Album Review

The Slow Readers Club channel positivity as the alternative to an authoritarian world on sixth album.

Release Date: 24th February 2023

Label: Velveteen Records

Format: CD / digital / vinyl

We were fortunate enough to be present at the National Trust’s Castlefield Viaduct Sky Park a few days ago for a listening party/launch of Knowledge Freedom Power. With three of the band in attendance and in conversation with Radio 6 Music’s Chris Hawkins and Mayor of Manchester and Readers fan Andy Burnham, it was an enlightening evening. A lucky selection of fans got the chance for an early preview and hear Aaron, Jim and David’s comments on making the records while asking the questions that earned them their place on the exclusive guestlist. As such we’re enlightened on the likes of which bands the guys would like to have been in (David: “Led Zeppelin but I’d make them shit!”) as well as the more serious issues of protecting the arts in our wonderful city. We’re equally fortunate to be able to provide a considered pre-release review for what seems to be already earning plaudits as a significant piece of work.

A band slowly but surely becoming heirs to the title of Manchester’s finest – in some eyes, they may have already earned that tag – the latest chapter in the inevitable rise to power for the Slow Readers Club comes with a bold statement in Knowledge Freedom Power. Almost sounds like a battle cry or rallying chant. Maybe one that might provide an alternative to the “Rea-derrrrrrs!” mantra of the intensely loyal fanbase. Indeed, it is the rapid-fire post-punk beat of the title track (positioned as a perfect Side 2, Track 1, for this is an album created to be played on vinyl) is powered by precise metronomic drums and a growling bassline that will prompt the fans to burst into full voice when this goes live in what frontman Aaron Starkie calls “an exercise in positive sloganeering, a mantra for education as a means of a way out from social and psychological confinement.”

That’s all to come, so for now, we find Knowledge Freedom Power housed in a striking blue/yellow combo (unless you’ve gone for the ‘flipped’ yellow/blue version or the classy looking blackout edition…gold vinyl possibly too tempting to resist), Aaron Starkie’s ‘optical illusion’ design work might have implications for the contents. A mind-expanding design with an equally striking soundtrack designed to hypnotise a la Michael Caine in The Ipcress File.

The contents – ten songs – power in at the deep end with a shocking electronic fizz and the declaration that “It is time to modernise,” the combination of a robotic mantra contrasting with a tender respite in the chorus. A similar lushness is explored in richer detail in Afterlife that’s as ‘hooky’ as the Readers get and perfectly sequenced; a real longing comes over in the key line that refers to seeing “the light of the afterlife.” It’s a grand and sumptuous statement, could even be the boys getting all spiritual and one that, the Rea-derrrrs, Chris Hawkins and Andy Burnham immediately declared, early doors, as a serious contender. A track that sets up high expectations for what’s to follow.

The second, IMHO, outstanding song comes with What Might Have Been. It sure sounds like a Morrissey/Smiths title and could easily be. The sentiment seems to be close enough and with the Marr guitar swapped for the Kurtis Starkie alternative of funky chops, the song sees Aaron heading into some testing falsetto. As Andy Burnham noted, one that will test the middle-aged dads singing along in the kitchen. It leads to a spacious crescendo with “I need your love,” soaring around the ether. A stadium anthem if ever there were one.

Elsewhere, there’s much to get off on, from the light touch of Sacred Song – very Summery and unusually bright (“clouds will part” etc…), some tender piano on How Could You Know; a song with the that you could easily be done by Coldplay but once again with a significant lyric…the part about being a good man lost in the dark striking home with bassist Jim Ryan at the playback. A strident synth line interrupts to carry Forget About Me as David Whitworth powers out yet another impressive performance on the kit.

Clever sequencing arises its head in placing No You Never as a finale that brings the band’s roots and empathy with their listeners to the fore. It’s about escaping from low expectations in life and having the ambition and drive to move beyond limited horizons. A song of darkness but also of optimism and empowerment, it’s a slow burner that will surely gain status as it becomes ingrained alongside the anthems. Possibly the most open and revealing song in their armoury.

Ultimately, KFP brings together all the things good about Slow Readers Club – electronic and dance influences, some striking guitar lines and choppy percussive gestures, radio friendly burst of arty pop, a rhythm section that drives many of these ideas into anthem territory all topped by some particularly insightful and poignant lyrics that offer a different picture within the same frame. KFP is a significant release that sees the boys reclaiming and reinforcing their position while offering an affirmative reaction to the bleakness in the world that’s often a vital ingredient in their songs. Who’d have thought it?

Return visits immediately to – It Might Have Been, Afterlife, No You Never….

Meanwhile, here’s Lay Your Troubles On Me:

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