“Humor keeps us alive. Humor and food. Don’t forget food. You can go a week without laughing.”
― Joss Whedon
“Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”
― J.K. Rowling,
To be honest, I never thought I’d use a quote from a Harry Potter novel in one of my reviews either but it is really relevant. Humour in music can be really clever, incisive and actually work or it can be excruciatingly unfunny and spoil the whole record. When that humour is witty and full of wry observations of relationships and life in general then it can lift the music to a whole different level.
When a good friend of mine (and bass player with Sleeperman) Stephen Skinner described their music as a cross between Alan Bennett and Ian Dury & The Blockheads I was definitely intrigued. After watching a video of them singing a track from the new E.P. live on social media I was hooked!
A levity filled 12 minutes of music, ‘Late Onset Optimism’ is full of sharp social comment and brilliant wordplay where the whimsical lyrics written by published poet and the band’s vocalist John Hilton have been set to music by Stephen and the rest of the band, Neil Scott (guitar) and Joel Cash (drums).
Sleeperman have played music since vinyl was not just the hipster choice but the only choice of music format – for and with artistes such as Everything But The Girl, Felt, Denim, Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins.
The band are from a generation brought up to pick the bones from a confusing diet of Clint Eastwood and Germaine Greer and remember when the only late night TV was The Open University and a time before smoothies. They embrace the work of Ian Dury, Fred Dibnah, Alan Bennett and The Buzzcocks, Ken Loach and The Kinks but cannot endorse films based on video games or careless use of the word ‘baby.’ They are trying to write and perform catchy songs about what now is like and embrace and cling to the old-fashioned idea of everyone getting along.
(L-R Neil, John, Stephen & Joel)
After the opening guitar flourish for I Put The Bullets In But Can’t Pull The Trigger, Neil launches into a Duane Eddy ‘Peter Gunn’ style riff that’s as catchy as hell and John’s semi-spoken vocal adds real atmosphere to this song about the age old conundrum of how to end a relationship. Joel and Stephen’s subtle rhythm section guides the track along at a jaunty lick and, as you listen to the incisive lyrics, a big grim spreads over your face. We’ve all struggled with trying to end a relationship and not being able to say the final words. This is my first introduction to John’s wicked lyrics:
“I wish I had the sense to just get rid, like Shane or The Milky Bar Kid, but you need bigger balls than I’ve got to clean up Dodge the way they did..”
That about sums it all up on this song full of modern metaphors, the music is brilliant, Neil’s mariachi-esque guitar solo a case in point, and the lyrics are full of social comment but with a real wry sense of humour.
A song about a quirky relationship, Accrington Not Hollywood sees the music and John’s vocal take on a wistful and nostalgic tone, the lyrics full of gentle humour. There’s a real feeling of bonhomie running throughout this track, a proper feelgood piece of music.
“You thought us star crossed lovers cos we’d not had many others, you called it fate and kismet though I hadn’t met your Mum yet…”
There’s a hypnotic, lilting tone to John’s voice that just draws you in, I don’t know why, but it really took me back to the sepia tinged black and white pictures of the 50’s that I’ve seen, when the world seemed a simpler and better place.
A bittersweet love song, Just Talking opens with a gentle guitar intro before John’s dulcet tones join in with a plaintive edge added to his sweet sounding vocal. There’s a regretful feel to the lyrics, like a man unsure of what he wants and how to express it.
“I didn’t just fall from the tree, you might fool them, you won’t fool me. It’s just something I thought I’d mention, don’t pay me any attention…”
There’s a delicate balance between happy and sad, heavy-hearted and walking on clouds that goes one way and then the other as the song continues. It’s beautiful but there’s darkness deep within.
The four track E.P. finishes on an uplifting note with the wonderful dysfunctional friends that are the subjects of This Is Us Lot. A funky, jazz infused rhythm is given by Stephen’s smooth bass and Joel’s stylish drums, add in Neil’s infectious guitar with its New Orleans tone and John’s cutting lyrics and you have a brilliant piece of social satire. Imagine Billy Bragg on happy pills and you wouldn’t be far wrong!
“You catch up with Mandy, it’s while since you’ve seen her, she spent a month as Joe Longthorne’s cleaner, caught him plucking his eyebrows, cursing his mother, downing glasses of Baileys one after the other…”
I find myself imagining these characters as real people, a musical version of Shameless even and the short but exceedingly addictive chorus just sticks in your mind becoming an irreversible earworm. All too soon the song and the E.P. come to a close and I find myself with a knowing grin on my face, that was thoroughly enjoyable!
Wit, humour and social commentary make for excellent bedfellows in music when it is written and performed as well as this. Incisive, socially conscious and yet sometimes irreverent and witty lyrics that we can all relate to married to music of the highest quality, folk, alt-rock, country and good old rock n’ roll and a little birdy tells me that a full-length album is mooted to be in the wings for later this year…
Released 5th May 2017