What an intriguing album this is.
The opening track “The End of Mankind” starts with a retro-sounding drum machine and a catchy but somewhat off-kilter guitar/keyboard riff. The verses are spoken and describe a novel in which there’s “a writer writing about a writer writing about a writer.” MOuse’s soft Welsh tones immediately remind me of John Cale’s narration on The Velvet Underground’s “The Gift.” But the story MOuse retells is definitely not for the squeamish and it makes Cale’s story of Waldo Jeffers intra-parcel death sound like a child’s bedtime story! Punctuating the horrific scenes of the verses, the chorus cheerily poses the question “is this the end of mankind?”
This nifty trick of bizarre spoken word verses coupled with a catchy chorus is repeated on the track “The King And Jesus Ganged Up On Me” which starts with an unsettling exchange in a men’s urinal and concludes with a football match where the pitch is invaded by God himself. If you’ve enjoyed the spoken word tracks that have been the highlights of recent albums by I Ludicrous and Half Man Half Biscuit (see playlist below) then you definitely need to hear this album.
A recurring theme in the album’s lyrics is the past. Indeed in the song “Memory” MOuse asks his memory “why are you mean to me?” and begs it to “leave him alone!”
Specifically the way that we remember the distant past and how those formative memories may or may not correspond with reality is examined in “Magnetic Frames On The Boiler” and idyllic childhood seaside holidays are recalled on the “Bunk Beds and Broken Sleeps.”
“Six decades in and I’m still in my 40s” sings MOuse at one point, only possible if you were born in 1969 I suppose. That lyric comes in the middle of a Bullseye speedboat-load of 80s cultural references and another killer drum machine pattern sounding right off one of those Street Sounds Electro compilation cassettes.
The acoustic “Sue” is deliberately daft but endearing all the same. A kind-of follow up song to The Beautiful South’s “Song for Whoever” it could alternatively be titled “The Continuing Adventures of Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue” and includes additional nods to Pulp and Johnny Cash.
Whilst the humour is well executed here and on other aforementioned songs, my favourite songs on the album are the more serious ones.
Album closer “Gladiator / Contender” seems to be about being with a dying loved one whilst banal Saturday evening ITV plays in the background. A father and son maybe? It’s very possible I’m reading too much into it but the familiar words “Contender are you ready? Gladiator are you ready?” are re-contextualised here taking on a deeper meaning. To the son, the contender, are you ready to face up to responsibility, to be the head of the family? To the father, the gladiator, are you ready to face death? As if to emphasise the inter-generational theme, there seems to be a child singing with MOuse on these lines. A really clever song built out of such a simple idea.
The spirit of Felt can be er, felt on the album’s more uptempo tracks “The Fire Burns” and the aforementioned “Bunk Beds and Broken Sleeps” which reminds me particularly of their wonderful final album “Me And A Monkey On The Moon” and the keyboard playing of Martin Duffy. A different kind of a piano part dominates another album highlight “With These Hands I’ll Rip Out Your Heart.” Here a short Michael Nyman-like figure repeats throughout creating a dreamy atmosphere. The lyrics refer to the parent / child relationship again and back comes that theme of memory as MOuse yearns for the past with lines like “I long for the days when you fell asleep to the test card, I long for the days when you didn’t pay with a cash card.” This sense of melancholy and something having been lost forever resonates through the album in a similar vein to much of ex-Baby Bird man Stephen Jones‘ recent output.
The album is produced by Stephen Black a.k.a. Sweet Baboo who has produced some of Euros Childs’ albums and also plays bass with the brilliant Cate Le Bon. In fact “Replica Figures” has a similar feel to a more lo-fi version of those artists. Well worth investigating further. Click the link below to stream / buy the album.
Playlist of Half Man Half Biscuit / I Ludicrous spoken word songs: