Breaking Out: The Rifles

London hotshots cop a classic title, teach Paul Weller to play his own song.

the-rifles-spin.jpg
Photo by Oliver Twitchett
WRITTEN BY
Stacey Anderson

Joel Stoker, cheeky frontman for the Rifles, doesn't mind if Britpop fans are confused by his band's new album. "It's okay ifpeople buy it accidentally," muses the singer about The Great Escape, which bears the same title as his countrymen Blur's landmark 1995 effort. "In fact, that's a good strategy: to call your album after another massive album. We'll name our next one Thriller."

A title isn't the only thing Stoker, guitarist Luke Crowther, bassist Rob Pyne, and drummer Grant Marsh -- who formed the Rifles in 2003 in a fit of inspiration after an Oasis gig -- took from their forebears. The quartet's everybloke rock mixes the Gallaghers' cocky sing-along choruses with the stylish mod snap of the Jam. Appropriately, their squalling 2006 debut, No Love Lost (Sony BMG Europe), caused a stir among chic Carnaby Street kids (spurred by frequent gigging in posh clothing boutiques), as well as more venerable figures.

"Paul Weller came onstage with us at the London Forum and played [the Jam's] 'Eton Rifles.' He hadn't really played it since the '70s," recalls Stoker, still in awe a year later. "We had to tell him what the chords were for his own song!"

The Great Escape (679), the Rifles' first album to be released Stateside, brims with tuneful ambition. The propulsive title track is a deceptively bouncy study of neurotic romantic uneasiness ("Waiting for the day you're not looking for something else," goes Stoker's drawled refrain), while the grandiose "The General" rises and falls on swells of furiously strummed guitars, machine-gun snare shots, and flaring mariachi brass, its lyrics inspired by Mike Tyson's downward career spiral.

"It's about how sad it is, that kind of icon needing money," explains Stoker, who once saw the boxing antihero speak at a shabby rec hall in suburban London. "But I'd better watch out. If he learns that the song is about him..."

The Rifles will tour America and Europe this winter, then settle in for some writing. But with the possibility of a Tyson thrashing in the horizon, perhaps the band should call the next one Ready to Die.

WATCH: The Rifles, "The Great Escape"

WATCH: The Rifles, "Buffalo Stance" (Neneh Cherry cover)

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