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Aug 29, 2023Aug 29, 2023

It’s a comeback that has been more than a decade in the making. After bursting onto the British indie rock scene at one of the worst possible times, Tribes seemed to mark the start of a promising new generation of musicians who were going to go into the halls of mainstream labels, shake up the power dynamic, and bring rock music back to the people. But that was a pipe dream, and one that fell apart almost as quickly as it came together.

After just two studio albums, 2012’s Baby and 2013’s Wish to Scream, Island Records dropped Tribes from their roster. When combined with personal tensions and a shift in audience, the band were faced with the harsh reality of continuing to struggle or breaking up. Eventually, they chose the latter.

“Being dropped was a massive blow,” frontman Johnny Lloyd told NME earlier this year. “[Being signed] was what we’d worked for since we were kids, and it just happened in a way that was so shocking. I didn’t have the language at the time to describe how unwell I felt from all the pressure of that and shouldering all the songwriting. Instead of saying, ‘Guys, I need a break’, I just shut down. It had taken everything we had from 2009 to get to that point, and we were completely burned out.”

A decade later, all four core members of the band – Lloyd, guitarist Dan White, bassist Jim Cratchley, and drummer Miguel Demelo – found themselves at a gig for Cratchley’s band Dinosaur Pile-Up. While staring down the 10th anniversary of their debut album, Tribes decided to reunite for a one-off benefit show for the charity Choose Love. When the demand for that show exceeded their expectations, the natural next step was to see if the band had any more new music in them.

More bombastic and triumphant than any of their past work, Rabbit Head blasts Tribes into a bright new future. Whereas the band’s first two albums were self-consciously fitting into the indie rock mould of the time, Rabbit Head feels liberated from concepts like “coolness” and “hipness”. Instead, it truly sounds like Tribes are just playing the music that they want to play. And damn, if it isn’t an exciting batch of tracks.

Setting the tone with album opener ‘Hard Pill’, Rabbit Head reaches for the stars with 14 anthemic rock tracks. There’s still some room for more lighthearted material – ‘Grandad’s On The Beer’ and ‘-ism’ could be insightful commentary or pure nonsense, depending on how you read them – and it’s not hard to key into the main themes of the album: resilience, perseverance, and survival. Sometimes those can be rote tropes, but there is no doubt that Tribes have actually lived through that shit.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to trading in stripped-back indie rock for arena-ready anthems. This is the biggest, loudest, and most grandiose arrangement that the band has ever attempted. Lloyd’s desire for bright lights and “technicolour worlds” in ‘Catwalk’ is borderline shameless, and the rockstar cliches that occasionally fill out his lyrics haven’t really gone away in the ten years since Tribes released their last album.

But the ultimate feeling of Rabbit Head isn’t one of fleeting youth and trying to recapture some magic. Instead, it’s a celebration that the very same magic can still exist after getting stomped out by life and uncontrollable circumstances. Tribes were seemingly doomed to fail, and when the chips were down, they cashed out and moved on. But the story wasn’t done, and they knew it too. After a massive response, it’s genuinely uplifting to see a band pull themselves up and try to make something that’s still worth listening to.

Rabbit Head is the culmination of a journey that doesn’t end well for most bands. All of the sweat and toil that the band members put into Tribes was seemingly for not… until they reclaimed their identity and began to re-shape their legacy. If nothing else, Rabbit Head proves that Tribes are more than just a flash-in-the-pan from the dying days of the original indie rock boom. They’re a solid unit that still has something to say all these years later, and if they’re lucky enough, hopefully, enough people will listen this time around.