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.
BY PHIL ISTINE
A blog to pontificate upon music both new and old: mostly reviews, some news, interviews, thought pieces, and exclusive content.