England's Symposium can't be bothered with comparisons. Their music employs many of the same anthemic components used by British-rock heroes Paul Weller and the Clash, with the same splash of nihilistic showmanship that made the Sex Pistols a phenomenon in spite of themselves. But they haven't the time to notice. The immediacy of youth that fuels their pop fire is readily apparent both on their debut U.S. release, "On the Outside," and in their notorious live gigs.
In England -- where the weekly music publication Melody Maker recently hailed Symposium as "the best fuckin' live band in Britain" -- word of mouth quickly grows into the hype of the moment. A band has to be prepared for the sort of tributary windfall heavy press can cause in American translation, especially given the track record of many of England's next big things on these shores. Record labels quickly put out the spin to counter potential Brit-invasion snubs, choosing to focus on the central quality of the music. "We're kind of just living in the moment," says vocalist Ross Cummins of the band's next-big-thing status. "I don't think we really fit into that kind of category."
Symposium's moment seems to be right now. Former Catholic schoolmates Cummins, guitarists Hagop Tchaparian and William McGonagle, bassist Wojtek Godzisz and drummer Joe Birch earned their stripes at home based on a couple of EP releases and a full touring schedule. Cummins once performed the latter part of a set flat on his back after suffering a severe, bone-exposing fracture to his leg. It must have been torture, but not because of any pain he was suffering. "We don't stand still," he says. "We just concentrate on jumping and screaming our heads off." Such over-the-top pageantry, combined with an undeniable sense of craft, has won them respect from irreverent punks and cultivated pop-types alike.
"On the Outside" presents the band to their full dynamic, bouncing with a sweaty-pop punch and swaying into an occasional melodic decline. It's the sort of album that defines a whole pop-rock attitude of bravado and apology via a chord-heavy catharsis. "It's really varied," says Cummins. "It's kind of a song from every mood. It's not happy all the way through."
Production aside, it's the songs that make "On the Outside" as monumental as it is. Written and recorded during a year's regimen of touring and studio work, the album links themes of alienation and self-defeating doubt with the saving grace of a positive shift in perspective. I'm unaware of all the things I ought to be aware of/ I'm not very scared of all the things I ought to be scared of, sings Cummins on "Paint the Stars," prior to belting out the big-chorus populism, You can paint the stars/ anywhere you are.
Elsewhere, on "Fizzy," the band mines hardcore ska for a rowdy bout of inebriated camaraderie. We don't belong here but where else can we go to?/ It's far too late now to stop, yips Cummins.
From all appearances, there's nothing stopping Symposium -- no weighty image, no bratty posturing. Just an aching spontaneity that doesn't hesitate to consider the challenge of breaking into a new country. "It's just the best thing in the whole world," says Cummins of the band's American anonymity. "It's just like starting all over again. It's just five of us in a small club, and we're loving it whether it's 10 people in the audience or a thousand.