The Changing Same have been around, in one form or another, for over a decade now. So it’s probably time to stop mentioning frontman Matthew Bannister’s other, older bands every time The Changing Same comes up. Let’s see if I can get through a whole review without referencing S****y F******s.
As befits the name, The Changing Same has had various line-ups since 2011 with Bannister as the only constant. Unusually this album credits Graham Sinclair on bass with the small qualification that he’s not actually in any of the recordings (it’s largely Matt’s son Albert on tape instead). Bruce Dennis on drums and John Mayden (guitar/vocals) complete the band.
When he’s not building on his impressive back catalogue as a musician, the elder Bannister is properly addressed as "Doctor" and takes an academic interest in music and film (his two most recent books are about Taika Waititi and The Front Lawn, which proves that he has great taste). So it’s no big surprise that new album The Changing Same Go to The Movies takes its title quite literally, collecting together 10 songs that are mostly inspired by films (like 'The Remains of The Day') and movie-makers (as in 'Song For Woody').
All up, it’s an easy listen with attractive guitar work and smarter lyrics than your average pop-rock.
The last verse of 'The Best Intentions', for example, regrets the things you didn’t do: “The dangled word unspoken / The song you did not write / The letter left unopened / They’ll be in your dreams tonight”. Performed live, the song has a howling coda after these closing lyrics. Bannister breaks his normal voice into a formless aahh, a yell that slides down the highest and loudest notes of the whole set: bad dreams rendered audible. Coming from a guy who’s usually a bit reserved on stage, it’s a memorable moment. (The last time I saw The Changing Same at Nivara Lounge, at least one HUP reader reckoned that the cover charge was worth it just for that bit.)
But as recorded here those same notes are sung in a much more controlled and musical way, almost choral. The song gets a new mood as a result, and perhaps those dreams won’t have you waking up in a sweat after all. This is an easier listen, but not necessarily an improvement. Either way, 'The Best Intentions' is a highlight. It comes early on, a couple of songs after the album opens with its brightest moment, 'Living In A Bubble'. If we break Go To The Movies into three parts, then Act I is the best.
Keeping up the metaphor, Act II is a bit of a diversion from the plot. It contains two tracks that Bannister didn’t write and doesn’t front. Instead The Changing Same leave the movies and slip into bar band mode for a few minutes. Bruce Dennis’s 'Howl That Daylight Down' is a solid country rocker which could play in the background of any number of American bar scenes. 'Stay On Top', John Maydon’s contribution, is a funky little jam in which the band hits the one and handclaps the four like old pros. It veers away from the funk formula and into yacht rock territory a couple of times, but guitar and sax solos put things back where the song is best.
In between these is the first of two songs that actually pre-date The Changing Same and feature completely different personnel (Bannister aside). The CD booklet explains that 'Lothlorien' was recorded back in 1999 “...as a pitch for The Lord of the Rings - unsuccessful, obviously”. It’s a fittingly slow and slightly moody affair which doesn’t show its age as much as you’d expect. Neither does closing track 'Judgement Day', from 2001. It’s surely inadvertent that its “doo doo doo” backing vocals recall, in a very small way, the Sneaky Feelings’ 'Husband House'*. Does Bannister deserve to have that wonderful single follow him so closely around, almost 40 years later? Probably not. But you know you’ve written something unforgettable when even singing “doo doo doo” is enough to trigger a dormant earworm.
Elsewhere in the third act, 'Sure To Rise' is a toe-tapper while 'Song To Woody' has a deceptively jaunty, poppy sound over which Bannister addresses Woody Allen. The singer may be a movie buff, but this is no fan letter. “Take the stick / Give it a lick / Would you trust Woody with your kids?”
A good trip to the movies is a temporary lift out of the everyday, giving you something else to think about and be entertained by. Call me old-fashioned, but I also prefer flicks that don’t take all afternoon. By these measures, The Changing Same have delivered. On the surface this is an enjoyable set of tunes from a skilled group, as friendly and accessible as you could want it to be. But you’ll also find lyrics that are worth going back over, and a short 36-minute album that rewards repeat listens.
By Max Johns