Words by Tony Allen.
Everyone’s got their own idea about the best indie albums of all time. Some swear by Hot Fuss. Others adore Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Jordan Scott recently wrote for LFM about how The Courteeners’ St. Jude has stood the test of time ten years on. I’d like to offer another entry to the canon not often talked about: Profession Reporter’s The Lipstick Durability Test.
In 2006, while indie was enjoying its golden years in Britain and America, Germany too was getting in on the act. With English lyrics and packed full of strong riffs, The Lipstick Durability Test is up there with the shining examples of the indie-rock long player.
And with this year marking its twelfth birthday, it deserves to be heard by more people.
Convening in Bad Ems, a quiet town just outside Koblenz, Profession Reporter played their first gig in 2001, taking their name from the Italian title of 1975 film The Passenger. But this was about as avant-garde as they got. Led by frontman Markus Krieg who wrote the majority of the band’s material, Ole Fries guested on some early recordings and joined full-time in 2003 to complete the lineup. He played guitar and keys and produced the album, also helping himself to a couple of writing credits. They were joined by other founder members Thomas Friedmann on guitar, drummer Lars Triesch and bassist Frank Bandur.
Multi-instrumentalist Krieg is also an accomplished drummer and now plies his trade as the bassist of the band Pictures, for whom Fries is lead guitarist. I first met Krieg after a Pictures gig in Berlin. He was quiet and unassuming, aside from his impressive sideburns and collection of tattoos. Nothing at the time suggested the fact that for years he was front-and-centre of his own band who supported the likes of Aydo Abay’s Blackmail and Union Youth, and played to sold-out crowds across Germany.
Sadly, The Lipstick Durability Test is Profession Reporter’s only full album, with completists required to seek out a split-LP with Skinny Norris and a few later tracks on Myspace, with the band’s website and SoundCloud accounts now deleted. Like many of their American and British counterparts, they never again hit the heights of their seminal album which nonetheless stands as testament to their quality.
There is only one interview with the band immediately accessible online, and across the twelve questions, whoever is answering is acerbic and reserved, as if to keep up the mystique. They refuse to list their influences or former bands. “Das interessiert doch wirklich niemanden” was the reply when asked about what came before Profession Reporter: nobody really cares.
Krieg, then, could perhaps teach John Lydon or Morrissey a thing or two about letting the music do the talking…
Profession Reporter’s intentions are clear from opener Shattered, with a no-nonsense riff and interesting Bandur bass line. Triesch’s percussion is crisp and clear, setting the tone for the rest of the album.
Next comes the equally catchy The Revolution, driven this time by Triesch’s marching beat, where Krieg’s vocals really get a workout above the electro fuzz.
The most retro-sounding offering here is The Tourist, in which Profession Reporter take a trip back in time with obvious similarities to Ocean Colour Scene and Steve Cradock. There are some superb guitar parts from Fries and Friedmann on the lengthy instrumental sections which make up the bulk of this 60s-sounding tune.
The raw rock homage Revival sparks the album back to life, featuring screaming guitars and vocals reminiscent of The Darkness, even giving hints of (young, angry) Elvis Costello’s delivery.
Nash is the archetype of what solid mid-noughties indie-rock should be, drawing on influences from The Beatles to Britpop to (whisper it) grunge, updating all considerably. Beautiful is a more contemplative, rangy effort with a mellow Sunday-afternoon vibe, fitting considering the album was released weeks after Germany hosted the World Cup and basked in the summer sun.
Unavoidable Circumstances bursts into life almost Springsteen style after a muted introduction with deep guitar and thumping drums. Costello and the Attractions are brought to mind again on I Don’t Understand, not least through Krieg’s authoritative, fast vocal and the band’s tightness around Bandur’s bass line.
The Fries-penned Girl Like You is a classic tale of forgetting your pride but staying cool. “You know it’s true, I’m still looking for a girl like you… If you want me I want you!” croons Krieg on the chorus. Listen out for the melodic percussion and scorching guitar solo in this too.
The most inventive songs are left for the end. Immediate earworm Kisses and Touch breaks down into clearly discernible instrumental tracks, with some interesting organ accompaniment by Fries, the birth of an idea he would implement ten years later to embellish Pictures’ Kind of Promise EP.
Another nice variety of jangly guitar effects come on The Getaway. Now, I might not be doing the band’s credibility any favours here, and I’m not going to be able to look Markus or Ole in the eye next time I see them after saying this, but it even contains the slightest whiff of a U2-esque chorus.
Always By My Side is the album’s highlight, the best single Brandon Flowers never made. It takes a couple of listens to get properly into this but it’s well worth it. Krieg’s melancholic vocals and Fries’ crystal-clear mixing make this the antithesis of late-album filler.
The effortlessly cool contemplation of Beautiful continues on the smooth, relaxed closer End, They Will.
So if, like me, you were disappointed in The Killers’ underwhelming last effort and regularly bemoan how everything used to be better, before you resignedly reach for The Trick to Life or Costello Music for the hundredth time, why not check out The Lipstick Durability Test on Spotify? Profession Reporter don’t need to try and sound authentic, because they are. And The Lipstick Durability Test could well be the best indie album you’ve never heard.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to change that.
Article written by Tony Allen, you can follow Tony on twitter here.