A collection of predictably unpredictable musical variations from the former Cardiacs guitarist.
Although Tim Smith was undoubtedly the mastermind behind the blindingly glorious music of Cardiacs, on 1995’s Sing To God he loosened his iron grip enough for guitarist Jon Poole to contribute a tiny fistful of his very own songs. Ultimately, of course, the propulsive punk of Bell Clinks and the graceful psych-pop of Manhoo proved to be highlights of the epic double LP set. After exiting the Cardiacs fold in 2004, Jon went on to fulfil bass duties in The Wildhearts, leaving admirers of his exceptional songcraft blinking in the dark and wondering whether he would ever again come to the fore as an artist in his own right. But thanks to a successful Pledge campaign, late 2012 saw the release of Jon’s first solo album. Apparently, this collection of songs had sat snivelling and neglected on a hard drive since 2005 but for years the creator had been too bone idle to undertake the necessary mastering. Finally, with the required sheen applied, the results were released as MP3 files via the Pledge website, and – to use a well-chewed cliché – the waiting was indeed worthwhile.
Predicting the musical direction of a Jon Poole solo album was always going to be a hopeless guessing game for twats. We have to remember that this man is a: Tim Smith acolyte, a balls-out stadium rocker, and prog/punk/ska/80’s pop-adoring multi-instrumentalist. The end result actually reflects all of the above influences to a greater or lesser degree, with the dominant feel being electronic new wave of a late Seventies/early Eighties bent. However, far from being a nostalgic pastiche, the record boasts a thoroughly modern sense of attack whilst nodding cheekily towards Jon’s childhood heroes, such as Elvis Costello on the phenomenal Years and Years. One of the best songs that the specky beanpole never had time to write, and one that effortlessly summons up the spirit of classic British pop songwriting circa the late 1970s, with a chorus bound to make the most cynical heart swell and soar spaceward.
Still in that musical timeframe, Bleep Bleep Bedlam joyfully recycles My Sharona before vocal cohort Givvi Flynn elevates the song to breathtaking heights with her distinctive soulful tones. But, perhaps Givvi’s greatest contribution – and, make no mistake, she is very much an essential part of the fabric here – graces the beautifully melancholic Dignity In Trauma which is heralded by stately orchestral synths reminiscent of Cardiacs at their most symphonic. Spellbinding, moving stuff.
The atmosphere of retro-futurism is omnipresent on this record, and no more so than on Alien Interaction. A funky, predatory bassline creates a palpable aura of tension befitting this tale of agoraphobic paranoia; “I don’t want them knocking at my door”. And then, all the nervy rumination is dramatically shattered by the chorus’ explosion of repressed adrenalin. Lyrically, while there’s plenty of introspection throughout, Jon also explores the sci-fi preoccupations of the average late Seventies 2000AD obsessive. On We Are Just The Same – where sparkling Cardiacs keyboards dance elegantly around an assertive, churning bassline – Jon’s Dalek-styled vocals bark stories of cloned beings lost forever in a “dreamless sleep”. Elsewhere, Prototype asks “What became of the human race?” over power-chord driven new wave before it descends into a heavy, hypnotic space-dub workout. Naturally.
But it’s not all dystopian doom and knotted angst, the time-honoured Poole humour shines through on I Know You, which is vaguely reminiscent of Charisma by KISS (from 1979, of course). Perhaps it’s my own wishful thinking, but the hilariously foul-mouthed lyrics could certainly describe one of that band’s key members i.e. the fire-breathing, blood-spewing demon we all hate to love. Meanwhile, despite its foreboding title, the album finale Psychosis actually begins as a breezy XTC-inspired pop song which temporarily abandons the icy retro-electronica. Until, of course, a mind-melting bluesy guitar solo introduces an Eighties-infused synth motif that would make Devo proud, reminding us of the record’s dominant influences for one final time.
On the sparse Snakefinger-like Bark Like You, Jon asks the intriguing question “Why the hell should I contribute again?”. Hopefully, seven years from the recording date, this sentiment still holds some relevance in terms of his future ambitions. On the basis of this album, and, of course, his work with Cardiacs, he is far, far too talented to simply play on the musical sidelines to the benefit of another artist’s project.
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