The Album Study: 'These Four Walls' (2009)
For the last issue’s Album Study, The Saint celebrated the Scottish influence and sound in Vashti Bunyan’s 1970 Just Another Diamond Day. Here, we move genres and decades but run the same celebratory vein. A nod to We Were Promised Jetpacks’ indie-rock-punk 2009 These Four Walls.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, currently comprising Adam Thompson (vocals, guitar), Darren Lackie (drums), and Sean Smith (bassist), formed in Edinburgh in 2003. The more involved work began when they moved to Glasgow. Soon after, the group signed with FatCat Records joining Scottish post-punk staples, Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad.
These Four Walls accompanies most of my train rides through the Scottish countryside. The group’s debut album is filled with harsh, accented lines, aggressive drums, and sombre imagery. But although it mimics the work of its FatCat contemporaries, Pitchfork notes: “Just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean it’s not appealing”. Released in June 2009, this eleven-track work harnesses the country’s landscape; the grayscale and simplicity of the Scottish sky penetrate each track. The album signals confined anger but reveals a diverse vulnerability.
We Were Promised Jetpacks has a proclivity for straightforward and repetitive lyricism. Each track tells a story, yes, but boasts lucidity. A narrow focus, nothing too intricate, and the only thing chaotic are Lackie’s drums.
I’ll take you through just a few of These Four Walls’ most notable tunes.
‘Quiet Little Voices’ remains the group’s most popular song. At each of the four shows I’ve been to, Thompson remarked on his shock that a song so simple in instrumentality could become the group’s most addictive sound. This track clarifies the band’s propensity for a confined lyrical focus. Here, it’s an emphasis on addiction, whether related to friendship, romance, mental health struggles, or drugs, I’m unsure. Regardless, the message withstands: “Quiet words of wisdom creep into your victim’s ear / I’ll die for you, I’ll die for you, I’ll die for you”.
The pattern of constructing a narrow focus ensues. ‘This Is My House, This Is My Home’ is a commentary on demons. The delicate composition alludes to a dying relationship. The pair fears the underbelly; the attic, to which Thompson refers five times, shelters and nurtures the relationship’s parasites. Thompson performed this track at an acoustic show at Dundee’s Assai Records in November 2021. It’s one of the group’s favourites, he announced.
‘Conductor’: We’ve arrived at what I’ve concluded is the most underrated song on the album, and even of the band’s entire discography. Thompson’s vocals stand alone, isolated above the twinkling percussion. The story documents a soured relationship. One party, a past partner, manipulates their conductee, “Far too orchestrated / Far too calculated”. The melody and increasing tempo evoke something bleak: an individual entirely bare and exposed, yet hit with electricity arresting mind and body.
On paper, These Four Walls effects little commotion. Live or loud (ideally both), however, it’s nothing short of transformative. The constricted foci scattered throughout the album gift you an appreciation of the local sound. It’s ultimately in this album — quietly grey, subtle, unfussy — that listeners hear the poetry of the Scottish landscape.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons