It’s unfortunate that Pulled Apart By Horses have reached a stage where they’re more or less just part of the furniture now. The groundswell under them with their debut was significant, as it was for their follow-up Tough Love, a pair of album amping up their garage-rock with a punk sensibility and the off-kilter leaning that made them a favourite among the UK indie circuits. But since then—likely when the big breakout was more short-lived than anyone anticipated—Pulled Apart By Horses haven’t exactly been covert about their inability to rebottle that lightning. It was on 2017’s The Haze where that became most apparent, leaning towards the garage-rock vogue in the 2000s but that felt fairly dated over a decade late, and didn’t do them many favours when the album as a whole has largely gone unremembered since.
None of this criticism comes from a place of malice either; they’re a talented band who can do well, not the sort who’ll stick around by birthright with nothing to show for it. It’s just that some of their recent decisions have made the quality of their output hard to defend, a downswing which sadly seems to continue on Reality Cheques. To call it Pulled Apart By Horses’ worst album might be going too hard for the jugular, but without a doubt, it strikes as their most limited album, in some fairly obvious and crippling ways.
Chief among them is the restructuring that’s gone on within the lineup. Not only have they been pared down to a trio, but Reality Cheques also finds frontman Tom Hudson setting aside his guitar to focus solely on vocals, a decision that has merit on paper but seldom pans out on wax. They’ll strip down and extract elements from their musical DNA, but then won’t replace them with anything else, and the result can feel barebones as opposed to lean and simple. It finds more commonality with garage-rock that’s a lot older, most evident in Devil Inside and Positive Place with a creaking, out-of-date feel bereft of much noteworthy spark or fire. Compared to past efforts—and really, a lot of what this sound has been doing for years—it’s all just a bit stunted, compounded by only eight tracks that don’t house a lot of exploration as it is.
The main positive among it all is that the creative intent underneath it all is definitely there. There’s a want to go in this direction, regardless of how narrow its field is, and on Sleep In Your Grave or Fear Of Missing Out, there’s a bit of synergy with nearby post-punk to somewhat shore it up. The bass volume is probably Reality Cheques’ most consistently strong tool, where there’ll be a solid backbone or groove present, even if what’s built around it might not typically wow. In terms of appeal, it’s the seeds of ideas that treat Pulled Apart By Horses the most favourably and how they highlight where the potential of an album like this mostly lies.
It’s just a shame it doesn’t manifest a bit more wholeheartedly to bring Reality Cheques up further. You can see the thought process behind that too, in making a back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll album, excising any fat and doing what they can with the pure basics. But when that’s all done, what’s left might be a bit too basic, right down to the lyrics of charging through the rat race as a singular cog in a far greater machine, which isn’t a theme that’s been left with that much unexplored ground, especially in 2022. When the actual lyric-writing is comprised in no small part of blocks of motorik, repeated phrases, it just further narrows a range of fire that Pulled Apart By Horses already have cut down so much.
In the end, Reality Cheques simply falls almost exactly where The Haze did previously—it’s fit for purpose in terms of what its creators want, but said purpose doesn’t offer a substantial amount, nor is it arranged in a way that can satisfyingly circumvent that. It’s ultimately frustrating to see Pulled Apart By Horses circling this particular eddy once again, but at this point, not that surprising. A lot of the acts from their circles of their era have either gone or faded into obscurity, something that Reality Cheques does well enough to stave off, but not that much else. Perhaps a healthy backslide into the material they started on is false hope at this stage, but it’d be still be nice to see Pulled Apart By Horses once again strike as hard and fast as they’re so capable of.
For fans of: Dinosaur Pile-Up, The Subways, The Datsuns
‘Reality Cheques’ by Pulled Apart By Horses is released on 30th September on Alcopop! Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall