Every day for the rest of December I’ll be recommending some music for your ears – or maybe it could serve as something of a Christmas gift guide. It’ll be a mix of classic albums, neglected gems and new bits of gorgeousness.
This is a strange and startlingly brilliant album. It was released in 2002 and received a confused but impressed critical reception (see Alexis Petridis’ glowing review, in which he attempts to understand it by placing it in a bigger musical tradition which he doesn’t, but might as well, dub “weird Scouse”).
Of course, there’s a generation who skanked happily to the wonderful, accessible pop delight that is third single “Dreaming of You” and who were, for the most part, utterly unaware of its 1980s ska predecessors – or, indeed, anything much other than what glorious and simple fun it is. For a while it looked like it might become something of a ubiquitous feel-good track – it featured on television shows, video games, and most “Best Songs” lists of the early 2000s – but, happily, it seems to have been allowed to fade into an existence as an odd musical relic to be joyously unearthed from time to time on party playlists.
So they can do ska-esque pop, and do it well, but this album has far more to give than that. A song about a man changing his name and then becoming a plant should not be as peculiarly haunting as “Simon Diamond” is. And James Skelly’s raspy, bluesy vocals shine on the wise-beyond-their-years “Waiting for the heartaches to come”. In these songs, and throughout the album, the band manage to toe the fine line between a noisy cacophony and controlled musical chaos. The vocal melodies and psychedelic guitars that feature on most tracks form a coherent sound that holds the album together. And what a whole we get as a result: by turns poetic, witty, fun and sad, this record – musical tradition or not – is one to cherish.
(wait for the chorus… It’s worth it)