Obermann Rides Again (Dirty Water)
“Raw and tender rock’n’roll songsmithery”, says the press release. And that, in a nutshell, is the long-term appeal of the Rochester/London trio with the granite name. The Big Beat Sound might seem to some as same-old repetitive background noise, but getting it right is a fine art. That takes mastery.
‘Obermann’ is their ninth release, and first for five years. For the uninitiated singer/guitarist Mickey Hampshire and drummer Bruce Brand first came together in the Milkshakes in the early 1980s, whilst bassist John Gibbs first materialised in [the recently reformed] Scottish beatsters The Kaisers. That Mickey and co. are still bashing away together at it after more than 25 years is testament to sheer bloody-mindedness, and more importantly an ability to turn basic raw materials into song-shaped Taj Mahals year after year, to the public's delight.
As with most beat bands the sound rarely changes album to album, and so here is more of their mix of hard rockers and softer songs [not ‘ballads’!]. 'I Ain't Hurting For You’ is as sharp as ever, with a scream’n’buzzsaw solo combo that’d shame bands half their age. ‘I Don’t Understand Her Anymore’ has a low-key beauty, wonky Stylophone wizardry and all, that’s hard to put into words, but you will feel it. The Bo beat takes a front seat, as usual, on occasion, most effectively on the Ludella Black-featuring ‘You Don’t Have To Travel’. Producer Jim Riley blows a mean harp on the brooding blues of ‘I’m The Unforgiver’, which would sit nicely on Blue And Lonesome. ‘Won’t See Me Again’ would make Dave and Ray proud, whilst the plaintive ‘What Do You Do' shows there’s versatility in this Medway business. The album finishes with a title track that’s loud, proud and full of vim.
Lyrically Hampshire is as straight as a die, maintaining the bad-woman-did-me-wrong, but-I-win-in-the-end routine. ‘Redacted Man’ is a lovely touch; taking a current political lexicon and shifting the idea to a relationship is a clever twist. Lines will jump out at you here there and everywhere, e.g. “your dangerous mind, like a loaded gun”. It’s not a perfect album: on rumblers ‘Don’t Torment Me’ and ‘The Unsignposted Road’ you can hear the formula overstepping the songcraft. But it matters not, because a cracking song is always only a step away.
Hampshire songs aren’t all look-at-me noisy bluster: instead they seep into your brain after a few plays and [masonic] lodge themselves there. They manifestly show how pub rock can be as great on the feet and in the heart as any prog opus. Long-term fans will be impressed, and new converts will find plenty to love. Everyone wins.
[Bonus news: apparently we can soon expect new vinyl and download releases from The Masonics’ back catalogue, starting with Outside Looking In and a new singles compilation]
Obermann Rides Again is out now via digital platforms. There’s a limited, 500-press vinyl version too if you look hard enough.
KING SALAMI & THE CUMBERLAND 3
Goin’ Back To Wurstville (Dirty Water)
Runners-up? Runners-up, really? When last year the London rhythm’n’punk band appeared on the BBC as part of its search for Britain’s Best Part Time Band they should have been a shoo-in to win. Alas, terrible ska band Bombskare won. Which, on reflection, is probably for the best, because the band should first and foremost be known for the music and the shows, not winning some quickly thought-up show to fill the TV schedule of BBC Two. The band are a constant inspiration to all who come across them, working tirelessly to entertain us kick-seeking fools via many recordings and countless tours.
This, their third album, starts with a little bit of show-business razzmatazz, as sax-playing singer [and musical fellow traveller] Colonel Spencer of MFC Chicken fame gives them an MC-style intro. It sets the scene just like the live show, and the first track that follows is classic Salami: ‘Pineapple Mama’ being the twitchy, butt-shaking bastard offspring of Dr. Feelgood and The Sonics. The sound remains the same. Why improve on perfection?
There’s not much need to discuss individual tracks, for the template is clear throughout. Lashings and lashings of demented R&B played with skill and abandon by a well-versed combo. King Salami himself and his sandpaper-rough voice lead the way via entertaining stories about women, dancing, and, occasionally, meat products. 2016 single ‘Tiger In My Tank’ is mercifully included here, as it’s smoking. The intensity never lets up, the quality never drops below first-rate, and if you like your tityshakin’, rockin’ garage ‘Wild’ and ‘Swinging’ then you’ve come to the right place. Now you’re here pull up a chair and never leave.
The title for Britain’s Most Entertaining Band has a clear weiner. [best leave it there, in case I think up any more meat-based puns to make you groan].
Goin’ Back To Wurstville is out now on LP, CD, and DL via Dirty Water
In This Perfect Hell (Groovie/Dirty Water)
For the uninitiated The Routes are an Anglo-Nipponese garage trio, and that’s not something you get to announce very often. This fifth album was written, recorded, mixed and played on (except the drums) by the Anglo bit of the band, Christopher Jack. I mention that because this is pretty close to a solo record of Jack’s, and thus a slightly different beast from before. The R&B swing you usually get from them band has a different tone this time: often replaced by the type of sinister, very stoned, heavy reverb Fuzzinations that John Dwyer has been traversing with Thee Oh Sees in recent times. If you’ve heard the last album Skeletons then time to readjust your sonic earphones, as we’re not in the same prefecture anymore, Tonty...
This is Modern Garage, where the fuzz sound remains key, but many of the authenticity hang-ups of the sixties garage scene are put away in the closest with the Chelsea Boots. As long as you don’t throw out the Trash with the bathwater, this is absolutely fine. And luckily for us listeners Jack doesn’t. He has a particular way with his guitar sound and vocal delivery to have already stamped a trademark on his sound, so it’s not an alien departure at all. But now you can positively taste the thickness of the trip, as slabs of echoing buzzsaw guitar puncture the ears from every direction.
Opener 'Thousand Forgotten Dreams' trails the sludge love of a thousand stoner rock bands with a penchant for Jesus and Mary Chain (aka “pop”) as well as yer usual Sabbath. 'Something Slipped Through My Window' is a glam-beated one-directional onslaught; Marc Bolan on a comedown, if you like. “Peeling Face” is great uptempo bubblegum garage: cheap Ace Tone organ bubbling away whilst Jack has a full-on meltdown. Even pacier is ‘No Permanance’, which maintains a winning - relentless, even - motorik groove’n’drone combination [Can influences are always going to win you bonus points at Tender Prey]. This theme is explored again on ‘Oblivious’ to great, if ever-so-slightly intimidating, effect.
'Worry' is all minor-key doom, with a simple up’n’down blues riff that’s Primitive Central, aided and abetted by a cracking shouty chorus. Put it on the latest Back From The Grave and it fits perfectly. 'Make You Hate Me More' similarly delivers. Turns out they still do authentic sixties, then. The lyrics are still the tongue-in-cheek “watch out, I’m a charming shithead” style, and when you do a catch an intelligible line through the murk it invariably induces a grin.
It you can stomach the heavy, tinny, reverberating production values that renders the album distinctly monotone then you’ll be In Perfect Fuzz Heaven with In This Perfect Hell. Acid Punk, baby, is still where it’s at.
In This Perfect Hell is out on vinyl via Groovie Records and download via Dirty Water mid-March
Caught In The Darkness [Sugarbush Records (LP)/Easter Records (CD/DL)]
This one re-emerged from the endless pile of mess that my life became after moving back to England from Oz. At first I thought that it was too late to review as it came out twelve months ago, but then this Internety Thing timely revealed that the bastion of quality power-pop and psych, Sugarbush Records, has done a limited run of vinyl pressings, and released it in December. Talk about breathing new life into a much deserved record.
So without any more ado, let me sing the praises of this Milwaukee troupe on their fourth LP. My review of previous album Things That Shine & Glow was gushing. “Why aren’t these guys megastars?”, I pondered - and I’m still am asking the same question. They are America’s Pugwash, really: mixing power-pop pace and melody to dreamier ideas on the slower numbers. They come out the gate with the title track and it’s ‘65 Beatles joy all around. ‘Thursday Girl’ marries the sonic adventures of The Electric Prunes and Jeff Lynne to create Guitar Pop Nirvana. The quality never really dips for the rest of the album, and singling out certain tracks seems a little unfair. But I will say that if you played ‘All The Way’ to anyone and claimed it was the new Foxygen single they wouldn’t suspect anything was up. ‘She Has It All’ swings with the confident verve of prime-era Prisoners [does praise come much higher than that?], and comes with a lovely paisley-centric Wurlitzer-sounding middle-eight that captivates on every playback. One final mention: for the galloping ‘I’ll Stand In Line’, which has that special, warm, yearning, humble and vulnerable feeling that very few bands that are not called The Pale Fountains or Love could ever conjure.
I’m not alone in praising 'the Trolley' [as probably no one is calling them]. It seems that every decent blog feels the same way about this one, with top comments appearing on many throughout 2016 (where? On Shepherd Express, Milwaukee Record, Broken Hearted Toy, Powerpopaholic, Power Pop Revival, Pop Geek Heaven, The Strange Bew, Goldmine, The Big Takeover, Sweet Sweet Music, Sound Renaissance, I Don't Hear a Single, Pop Junkie, and Pop That Goes Crunch!!!). No one who has this record has ever regretted the decision. And for Zombies, ELO, and general harmony-pop fans, this album is ESSENTIAL.
Caught In The Darkness is out now on orange vinyl via Sugarbush or CD and DL
BY PHIL ISTINE
A blog to pontificate upon music both new and old: mostly reviews, some news, interviews, thought pieces, and exclusive content.