Star Botherers are Happy and Angry with a new album!
I’ve been looking forward to Star Botherers releasing their album ever since it was announced it was in progress – and by gosh it doesn’t disappoint. I think all but one of the generous fourteen songs on here I’ve heard performed live, and there’s a fair few that have appeared on EPs released before. But these familiar friends have been lovingly caressed and enhanced in the studio so even these songs you think you’ve heard before take on new and interesting dimensions without losing their charm.
The once semi-novelty duo – mixing in originals, cover versions and games of bingo into chaotic sets, have been slowly but surely building their portfolio of songs and once you see them laid out here you realise it’s quite an impressive canon. They’ve managed to retain their fun and irreverence whilst adding layers and sublime production. Brad has of course joined often on stage to add more intricate percussion, and we’ve seen both Joel and Ellis add extra stringy things of late – and the album is full of this.
Joel too has been responsible for all the technical wizardry in mixing and mastering the now more complicated audio channels – we know from Black Thorn’s album how adept he is at this, and this will sit alongside that as a fine testament to his technical skill. This really is an album to be proud of – the songs rollercoaster you from amusement, nostalgia, cutting political observations, meloncholy and at times downright hilarity. Bart is a very clever lyricist and he’s assembled an expert team to augment his guitar in accompanying the words.
Ringing in Sick kicks off the journey – a reasonably veteran track, it probably has amongst the most profound lyrical hook I’ve heard in ages on there (“We wasn’t born just to work, just to eat, just to to sleep, just to watch TV repeat, repeat, repeat”). Detailing the futility of spending forty years a slave, and a small act of rebellion in claiming a sick day in some kind of recompense. With haunting echoes of harmonica in there and doubled-up vocals over a slightly juxtaposted jaunty beat, considering you’re basically conceding to being slowly killed by work, but not quite having the gumption to properly protest.
I’ve loved First Night Festival Fever ever since I heard it – there’s a piano-plinked intro before the song kicks in. It’s a bouncy song, and well – we’ve probably all experienced the subject matter at one time or another (I know I have!). I love the lyrical play again – describing those drawn to an array of drinkable goodness as being like a wasp round a bin on an icecream is a stroke of genius. But, as the song says, it’s a right of passage – and you should be proud that you’ve earned your festival stripes!
A drum (and burp!) intro with sound effects threw me at first until the familiar bass riff for My National Trust kicks in. It’s been beefed up from the version on the original Full House EP – but doesn’t lose its impact, message or humour! But well, as soon as I got it I was looking out for When Dave’s Dead – because, well.. it’s just bloody genius isn’t it! A semi-lament, semi-tribute – well, it’s not really is it – it’s a list of inconveniences really! You can’t help but imagine Dave grinning and bouncing around to the chorus though like he does when they play it live. It didn’t let me down!
Just Around the Corner is one of my favourites of theirs – unlike the 600 EP version you’ve got Dave and Bart on vocals throughout instead of the former just adding emphasis at line ends. The song itself charts the life of a man’s delight in buying a council house and commuting to work by pushbike right through to divorce, unemployment and pet bereavement. It’s one part funny two parts moving, but still done with that kind of wry wit – particularly spoken word bit over a bass line and clicky drums.
My Guitar hasn’t been recorded yet but I’ve definitely heard it at least a couple of times live – essentially a tribute to, well, Bart’s guitar and the adventures he has with it. There’s an ace little electric guitar instrumental section in there (which I suspect was Ellis’s guitar!) Just when you think that it’s reaching a rousing finale it kicks back in again for an extra round documenting the strings he’s snapped on his guitar. The guitar riff that backs pretty much the whole song is very catchy – there’s no chorus in here so it just keeps chugging along in a strangely catchy fashion.
I’m not sure if the banterous snippets I’ve got on my version will make it on the last CD – I hope so though! There’s one before Playing for Nothing which I don’t think I’ve heard at all before – it’s a lament to the lot of the touring musician trying to make, well, not even a living – but cover costs of performing at events. It’s wry and pretty accurate, there’s a nice group-sung chorus in there too with a bit of harmonising! In the middle there’s a lovely instrumental section before the middle-eight cuts to Bart’s vocals with just guitar strums. He makes a fair point I think!
Hubball Shuffle gets a makeover, of course there’s still a banjo overlay which there’d have to be, but a much more fulsome percussion overlay. It’s a nice enhancement, you can’t help but imagine Kev’s unique dancing style. I’ve detected a subtle lyric switch, it’s gone from ‘when his demon calls’ to ‘when a demon calls’ – I can’t decide if I approve or not, it throws me when I’m singing along though, haha! Bad Guys doesn’t need any introduction really – it’s the first song that really grabbed me when I first saw Star Botherers performing!
There’s been a sympathetic restoration is probably the best way of describing it – which I’m pleased to report, because it didn’t need a lot of tweaking! There’s some backing vocals for bits that need emphasis – it doesn’t matter how many times I hear it I can’t resist the urge to singalong – and usually ending up out of breath trying to do that bit. There’s some witty interjections from Dave in there. Having said that, I do think on balance that I like Bart’s original Hilary Devey impression though! (Sorry Dave).
3 Sets of Strings is another relatively new song – it’s really catchy though, covering the convenience (and cash saving) benefits in shopping online, but conceding the impact this has on the poor buggers plying their trade on the High Streets and being subject to the kinds of taxes and fees that the likes of Amazon and eBay are so adept at avoiding! Next up is If I was a Tory – I remember initially this as a semi-spoken word Bart put online. It’s a scathing indictment to those we find in power at the moment.
With minimal percussion over a tambourine and guitar it’s a fairly simple structure – the lyrics are clever and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to not feel rather angry at our collective political apathy when you have this kind of inverse-manifesto laid out for you.
Midlife Crisis is another well known one that’s had a bit of a facelift too – the instrumental track isn’t dramatically different, although the vocal melody has altered from ‘were we all deaf and blind’ which definitely threw me when singing along on a first listen – it’s more lifted, you’ll see what I mean if you compare the two. For Dave’s ‘suddenly I’m trendy’ bit there’s a jazzed up homage to the eighties playing in the background which had Ella and I laughing out loud when we first heard it in the car. Just brilliant.
With the end being nigh Star Wars Bride is up next, now we have the amusing backing vocals Dave introduced to live performances, there’s extra layers of strings on there too – something Ellisish – I couldn’t tell you what manner of stringed thing he’s used. Which leaves you with a funked up One Inch Death Punch to see you to the end (and probably an inevitable repeat) – the essence of the song is mercifully the same, but with extra layers and neater production. A strong song to finish with!
A superb album which launches officially at the Black Market on 3rd November (or launched then – I’m not sure when Bart’s going to let me press the go button on this!). Some brand new material and some favourites given a good coat of spit and polish – and by heavens didn’t they turn out lovely? You’re going to want to get your hands on this!