It’s 2017. Can you really make a great album about marriage? Arguably, part of the reason why the charts are so rich in queer and androgynous themes right now is because the first sixty years of pop music did tend to go back to the well of heterosexual monogamy as subject matter rather often. Any new band writing about getting married would have to compete with Chuck Berry, the Dixie Cups, the White Stripes, David Bowie and The Proclaimers in order to make a mark on newlywed couples’ playlists, and who would dare muscle into that company?
Well, Tennis might. Their discernible influences – Carole King, Carly Simon – show they’re unafraid of lofty comparisons. After the departure of drummer James Barone, the band are now down to real-life husband and wife Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, and Yours Conditionally deals romantically yet realistically with the commitment they’ve made. From the wavering title down, there’s a touching uncertainty and grit to the way they deal with the subject matter. The fantastic, strutting My Emotions Are Blinding dismisses binary views of gender in a series of withering, contradictory couplets (“I get hysterical/ It’s empirical”) and one of the album’s prettiest songs, a folky waltz decorated with singing, chorused guitar lines, is titled Please Don’t Ruin This For Me.
The key to the band’s sound lies in the fact that Moore and Riley are both multi-instrumentalists, meaning the overall sound and craft of their songwriting takes precedence over any kind of egotistical soloing or riffing. Each song on Yours Conditionally sounds, regardless of arrangement, like Tennis, whether it’s the overdriven bass and gentle guitar arpeggios of Fields of Blue, the minimal tropical honeymoon of the closer Island Music or the pulsing organ workout of Matrimony. The latter is perhaps the song which wears its heart most daringly on its sleeve, with Moore comparing her love to a burning bush and a fresh spring, then singing of the “sweet summer morning when you made me your wife” before drifting off to the top end of her range. It should be unpalatably saccharine, but it’s done with the kind of sincerity and classical songwriting nous that makes you feel like you’ve never heard a song about this before. The whole album is like that, actually.