DELAYS at the Mod Club Theatre (722 College), Monday (July 19). $12. 416-870-8000.
Imagine it's the mid-90s and you're an angsty teenage boy sitting in your bedroom in England's suburban Southampton, playing your guitar while planes fly overhead to and from the nearby airport while you wallow in how alienated you feel from the rest of the world. For the hell of it, let's pretend you're kind of a weirdo and listen to music - like Prince and Flock of Seagulls - that doesn't exactly win you points with the cool kids. But you can strum a guitar, right? That's pretty cool. And maybe if you started a rock band you could up your cachet with the in crowd. Isn't that why most teenage boys start bands?
According to Delays frontman Greg Gilbert, native of Southampton and self-described target of teen ridicule, his first foray into rock stardom had quite the opposite effect.
An early proto-version of Delays, his band bore the unfortunate moniker Corky and found the singer and his mates glammed to the nines in eyeliner and leopard-skin flares.
"We wanted them to make fun of us," he insists in his soft-spoken south coast accent. "We didn't want to be another cock rock band. Everybody around was doing their 'gang of lads' mentality, and we wanted to be confrontational onstage, to have people either love us or hate us.
"See, the worst thing anyone can say about your band is that they 'quite like you.' No great art ever came from 'quite liking' something."
Luckily, Gilbert and his bandmates ditched the Manic Street style around the same time they ditched the dorky name. They also recruited Gilbert's brother Aaron, a house nut who spent his time noodling with samplers and sequencers and who gradually shaped their sound from what was rumoured to be a so-so acoustic glam disaster into Delays' current breathy blend of New Orderish melodic melancholia mixed with the soaring harmonies of 60s pop.
Delays make terribly, terribly pretty music with a weird retro-futuristic vibe and the kind of wistful lyrics you write in your diary when the sun's coming up and you're anticipating a hangover after an all-night drinking binge.
The band's Beach Boys harmonies consistently get them slapped with the same retro Cali-pop revivalist tag worn with pride by fellow UK indie popsters the Thrills. But the saccharine sweetness of brother Aaron's synth fills and the latent sadness in Gilbert's keening falsetto - think a little bit Liz Fraser and a little bit Thom Yorke, with a dash of theremin thrown in - are more reminiscent of the era that birthed Bernard Sumner's robot blues in New Order tracks like Temptation.
Gilbert embraces their 80s heritage but insists the current me-decade revival has done little for their popularity.
"Right now everyone's about the angular art rock/Blondie/Television sort of thing that's got no bearing on what we do. We're not that trite - we'd never adopt something just cuz it worked to our advantage, unless we were genuinely trying to please ourselves. I mean, I've been laughed at all my life cuz I like the music I do."
This is a dude who's used to being misunderstood. In fact, he thinks the greatest bands of all time have been misunderstood, even Abba.
"Benny and Björn are like Mozart!" he suddenly perks up. "They're absolute geniuses, but they've been marginalized as this family party band. If you're gonna take the silly outfits, then fair enough - they can just be a novelty act. But if you're gonna be serious and listen to the writing, then there's a lot to get from it.
"On the Nirvana tour bus - I think it was during their last tour - the big album they listened to all the time was Abba Gold. Pete Townshend says S.O.S. is the greatest pop song ever written, and I was listening to it the other day and thinking he's not wrong."