Cuts & Bruises demonstrates that Inhaler are capable of that much-coveted element from debut to sophomore – maturity – whilst preserving the winning formula behind It’s Always Like This.
If there was one thing you could mark Inhaler’s chart-topping debut album down for, it was the odd adolescent slip of the tongue. The meandering ‘My King Will Be Kind’, for instance, has perhaps the most memorable line on the album, if only for its surliness: “She says I’ve got no love / I fucking hate that bitch”. Tubthumping indie anthem ‘My Honest Face’, meanwhile, even revolves around a certain immaturity, with the admittance, “I didn’t want to hurt ya / But there’s just a certain culture when you’re young”.
Still, you could hardly blame them. Frontman Eli Hewson was over a month out from his 22nd birthday upon the album’s release, and – a fact many of us come to realise when it’s too late – there’s plenty to revel in when you’re young.
In fact, It Won’t Always Be Like This proved something of a knowing title; a little wink-wink not only to the band’s youth, or the doldrums of the pandemic at the time (even if the title track was written in 2016, the first they wrote together), but also their confidence in eventual superstardom.
Sure enough, the record’s success justified such a view. Not only did it become the fastest-selling vinyl by any band this century (later to be overtaken by Yard Act’s The Overload), but was also the first UK Number One album from an Irish band since fellow Dubliners The Script’s self-titled debut 13 years prior. Call out the album’s bouts of boyishness all you like, its achievement was big league stuff.
Cuts & Bruises’ lead single, ‘These Are The Days’, is a festival stage anthem that picks up where Inhaler’s last album left off, in its same wise appreciation for their coming-of-age; a roof-down car-ride singalong where “One of our friends is along for the ride / Hangin’ from the window, out of his mind” and “We were breakin’ the limit, then we broke down”.
The same could not be said for the rest of the album, though, which is a clear demonstration of that oft-quoted (by critics), much-coveted (from musicians) transitory state: maturity.
In fact, like the music video for the album’s second single ‘Love Will Get You There’, which situates the band in a spoof of an old-fashioned talk show, Inhaler have gone backwards to go forwards, relishing in the sense of themselves as a major new outfit; with broader, fuzzier guitars and more existential lyrics.
Opener ‘Just To Keep You Satisfied’ isn’t the best of the bunch, but it’s a sleek introduction to their developed musicality, with Robert Keating’s bass plugging away beneath Josh Jenkinson on guitar, as Hewson mulls things over in a downbeat fashion that comes with age: “I couldn’t face the faces in my personality… / Maybe I’ll be faithful even if I was a cheat”. The track’s “La la la” refrain demonstrates how they’ve preserved some of their festival stage oomph without becoming predictable.
‘So Far So Good’ likewise holds some frenetic energy. But it’s on ‘If You’re Gonna Break My Heart’ and subsequent tune ‘Perfect Storm’ where the album really begins to hide its stride; the first a lovelorn ultimatum (“If you’re gonna break my heart, smash it to pieces”) with a smattering of piano, and the second seeing Ryan McMahon go heavy on the kick-drum, Hewson’s vocals straining with believable vulnerability.
‘Valentine’ starts with as scattered an approach as ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’ before descending into a murky request to “Be my valentine” (the album being released, obviously, on the week of Valentine’s Day). But it’s subsequent tune ‘The Things I Do’ where, the piano dialled-up, the vocals their most pensive, the addition of stabbing synths, you begin to realise: Inhaler have it in them to produce genuinely enduring tunes.
They might not have the dark edge of Ireland’s current crop of standout bands; of Fontaines D.C. (who released our favourite record last year), of Just Mustard, of Gilla Band. In some ways, they’re the pretty boys of the scene, with Hewson having to overcome the ‘Nepo baby’ tag by following in the footsteps of his father Paul, otherwise known as Bono.
Sure, it’s a first-world problem, but it poses a unique challenge when it comes to people judging your music in its own right. (In a recent interview with Guitar Player, Hewson refreshingly leaned into the influence of his father’s U2, declaring The Edge “such an important player, so [his] influence seeps in”).
It’s evident, though, that the mounds of touring and hard graft – which included supporting Arctic Monkeys (who they’ll support again this year, as well as Harry Styles) – has also seeped into their new album, and has been expertly steered by producer Antony Genn. Cuts & Bruises offers the beginning of Inhaler’s maturation; an interesting prospect that shows it won’t always be like this when it comes to their output. And that’s the mark of any great band worth their salt.