There’s a metasong on Last Ticket To Tango called Stranger Things Can Happen. It sums up the album’s origin story: “It’s not too late to be what you might have been / You’re trying to reach your potential / People achieve things later in life / Having desire is essential”.
Daniel Takes A Train are coulda-beens from the mid-80s, whose time in the shallow end of the pop world brought them stories of hob-nobbing with the Pet Shop Boys at the Brits, but sadly no record deal. Now middle-aged and long since moved on to other lives, their early material was rediscovered by a German indie label and released as “lost” album Style, Charm and Commotion in 2018 to a minor flurry of media interest and sell-out gigs. It’s a sweet story, and Last Ticket To Tango is its sequel: them finally getting the chance to release a newly-minted album.
The song then goes on with its self-assessment: “Stranger things can happen / You’ve had your time in the spotlight / Dreaming this is your moment / Sad to say I don’t think so…”
It’s a relief to hear a certain amount of realism about their prospects. Because while it’s genuinely joyful to hear 50-something second-chancers loving making music, it’s a stretch to pitch them as overlooked greats whose rediscovery will rock the world.
Their 80sness is totally unreconstructed, even with a 21st century production that removes some of the naive charm of the era. There’s little edge, but they know their way around a tune, and there are hooks that get into you. The low-key ABC-isms of the title track or Song For The Brokenhearted’s sax break are crying out for a cheesy Top of the Pops graphic sequence. It’s all good, clean fun, just anachronistic – the cryogenically preserved sound of 1987 defrosted and unaffected by anything that’s happened since.
Where their old album leaned towards Style Council-esque white soul, this one is a more straightforward pop affair, a contrast best illustrated by two sibling tracks, thematically linked across the decades: The Honeymoon Is Over from their previous album, and Honeymoon on this. Back then they shimmied with a flirty continental rhythm, now they jangle very Englishly. Occasionally, as on the pop-ska of Sleeping With The Enemy, they dally with other genres of the era.
It’s a shame for the band that live music has been knocked on the head, because in the right environment – maybe early afternoon, two beers to the good, at a local music festival – you’d merrily dad- or mum-dance along. On record, they’re more of a pop curio, strictly for genre fans.
As it prepares to execute one final, none-more-80s key change, Stranger Things Can Happen presents what could be a cruel conclusion: “Take the final curtain, it’s time you waved goodbye.” But no, that won’t be necessary. Daniel Takes A Train may not be the old new Smiths, but you’d wish them continued enjoyment of this Indian summer.