Some time around 2003, Fierce Panda and Island got their heads together to form Temptation Records. You’d be forgiven for having difficulty in recalling this, because by the time we rung in 2004, Temptation was already lost to the history books. However, before it shuffled meekly off into the good night, it was able to create at least some kind of a legacy in the form of a clutch of singles and an album from both The Rain Band and Medium 21. I won’t pretend to have ever heard a note from the former, but the latter ended up spending much of the last decade as unexpectedly dogged companions in my travels along life’s dusty highways (well, Gateshead’s potholed highways to be precise).
The band’s arrival into my life came under unusual circumstances, with an envelope (addressed to me) containing promo posters, flyers and a promo copy of the ‘By My Side’ single dropping completely unheralded one morning onto the doormat of my second year Uni dwelling. To this day, I have absolutely no idea to whom I had given my name and address in order to warrant such a dispatch, but my studently love of any kind of freebie as well as my pleasant surprise at the music contained on the disc outweighed any bemusement at the presumptuousness of whomever had sent it (who knows, if The Rain Band had been similarly brazen, you could very possibly be reading their eulogy right now, rather than that of their erstwhile labelmates).
Aside from a fleeting snatch of support from Mark and Lard, the songs from Killings From the Dial received practically no airplay (perhaps I should have done a little more with those flyers than just giving a handful to each of my three flatmates). While this, of course, is true of the majority of albums, most aren’t able to straddle the fine line between musical richness and radio crossover potential quite as assuredly as Killings From the Dial did. ‘Black and White Summer’ and ‘Albert Ross’ in particular possessed a panoramic sense of wistfulness which could have quite easily made them genuinely big singles. In the end, they wouldn’t get the chance to achieve such lofty heights, because ‘By My Side’, only the second single from the album, would prove to be Medium 21’s last release.
Perhaps the only thing which might have limited any potential mainstream appeal would have been singer Jon Clough’s voice, a peculiarly throaty drawl which could have polarised sections of the wider record-buying public. For me, though, he’s the perfect example of the (enormously clichéd, but still accurate) premise that you needn’t be a great singer to be a great singer. His vocals were always an interesting counterpoint to Medium 21’s more melodic moments (the likes of ‘The Plight of Losing Out’ and ‘Poisoned Postcards’) and they added real character and a genuine sense of urgency to the more agitated sections of the album like ‘Acting Like a Mirror’ and ‘Daybreak vs. Pride’.
One of the most impressive things about Killings From the Dial, and the thing which would elevate it above most of its more successful contemporaries was the way the band were able to so convincingly blend gorgeous sun-dappled acoustic pop, off-kilter wanderings and occasional bursts of paranoid darkness. Their skill in making the sometimes disparate elements of the record sit so comfortably together, sometimes even in the same song (see ‘Catalyst R.U.N.’), resulted in an album of enviable depth and intriguing complexity.
Ultimately, Medium 21 would never recover from the demise of Temptation. In spite of a number of attempts on Clough and co’s part to rekindle the band in various guises, Killings From the Dial would prove to be the only album they would ever produce. It’s an enormous shame that the band never got to stretch their legs properly and attempt to build on their debut, because even though you wouldn’t envy them the task of following it up, you get the impression that the creative range they possessed could have taken them to untold places. If nothing else though, at least their fleeting tenure left us with a more fulfilling record than most bands can muster in a full career, and in these grim and desperate times, that’s something for which we should be grateful.