Never personally had much time for Martin Amis’ writing, but I was idling my way through an interview with him in The Guardian the other day, when I came across his predictably splenetic response to The Bookseller’s claim that the new Amis novel, The Pregnant Woman, was a “return to form”.

Never personally had much time for Martin Amis’ writing, but I was idling my way through an interview with him in The Guardian the other day, when I came across his predictably splenetic response to The Bookseller’s claim that the new Amis novel, The Pregnant Woman, was a “return to form”.



“What’s this return shit? He never went away,” Amis told the interviewer. “Return to form will become a kind of slogan, unless it goes the other way and they say ‘further spiral of decline’… I’m sick of rising above it. I’ve had to do so much rising above it.”

Obviously, the concept of Martin Amis’ grim artistic struggle for acclaim is enough to melt the hardest of hearts. But by some unlikely karmic chance, I’d just finished playing the new album by Major Stars, wryly titled “Return To Form”. The joke here is that Major Stars – with a longish history that also involves Magic Hour and Vermonster, among other bands – have rarely been in a position where critics can talk with authority about how an album fits into the band’s entire catalogue. Is “Return To Form” a return to form? How many people honestly know?

In truth, I’m a little confused about why my own knowledge of Major Stars is so sketchy: they’ve drawn enough love and deference from people like Comets On Fire, for a start, and I remember being very taken with a Magic Hour – fronted by the same pair of guitarists, Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar – album back in the early ‘90s, with fellow Bostonites Damon & Naomi as the rhythm section.

Whatever’s happened in the intervening years, “Return To Form” suggests at the very least a certain consistency of tone. The default setting here is a full-throttle kind of psych-punk, with three guitars tussling it out in a series of high-velocity jam-offs, of which “Run From Me Devil” is currently my favourite.

It’s fast, fervid stuff throughout, and at times Major Stars come across as distinct kin of Dinosaur Jr, not least the way they graft unabashed guitar heroics onto heads-down hardcore dynamics: check the thrumming basslines on, say, “The Space You Know” or “Black Point”. In the midst of it all, though, there’s a singer, Sandra Barrett, whose blues-tinged voice is mixed surprisingly upfront.

At times, this works fine: as someone pointed out here the other day, Barrett’s vocal resemblance to Corin Tucker makes “Return To Form” a bit like Sleater-Kinney stretching out into psych without losing any of their velocity and focus; there’s also a touch of Beth Ditto in the holler, especially on “Black Point”. Occasionally, though, her voice jars a little with the riffing, as if she’s trying a bit too hard in comparison with the looser approach of her bandmates.

That said, she never really sticks around for that long, overwhelmed again and again by the snaking, thrashing, pummelling sound of her bandmates. Anyone who can help me pick a way through the back catalogue, please don’t be a stranger.