The Blow Monkeys
Devil’s Tavern | 2008
The best possible way to engage this Monk is to emphasize in-your-face bass playing. What better way to signal the triumphant return of The Blow Monkeys than to give the spotlight to Mr. Mick Anker and his double bass engaging in the purest Cool Jazz that this band had ever committed to disc? While Jazz DNA was all over their debut album, they soon moved outward and into Soul territory.
“The World Can Wait” saw them circling back to Jazz with a vengeance. In a world of electric bass and bass synth, the feel of Anker’s fingers vibrating the strings on the neck of his instrument were as palpable an actual texture as recorded bass playing could ever get! This song never fails to excite me and immediately engage me from the very start! The angular guitar licks Dr. Robert sparingly contributed allowed the rhythm section their time in the limelight.
The slow tempo and melody lurched to and fro in a frisky zig-zag of attitude and sound. Dr. Robert began singing and lingered a half beat behind the rhythm to better pull the listener into the nocturnal environment of the song. Until the chorus.
The chorus turned the neat trick of bringing the house lights up for the showstopper that ois was. One where every note played and sung was held for twice as many beats; elongating the drama without altering the actual tempo. The swells of the string section added to the sense of euphoria to better contrast with the furtive Jazziness of the verse structure. Or the middle eight with hints of Acid Rock in the Doctor’s guitar solo.
And thus the song did lurch forward in a call-and-response fashion until the song’s conclusion where the Jazz in the mix allowed for Neville Henry’s sax to enter into the climax the rest of the instruments veered off into Jazz Space and gave up their syncopation as the song broke down thrillingly. If the Blow Monkeys wanted to reassure this fan that their return was not in vain, then they could have hardly done better than with this stunning album opener!
For their next trick, the band went to a completely different place as they managed to evoke the classic Soul sound of an Al Green single with “I Don’t Mind.” Keys and string man Nigel Hopkins got some classic Hammond organ sound in the song and the saxes of Mr. Henry were straight out of Memphis. This was the sound of the band acing the Soul Test and showing that they could hit the familiar targets of yore with an aim that had only improved in the years apart.
The next song [and a promo single] showed that the band were comfortable trying on completely new musical clothes. Krautrock had not been anything that I’d say the band were influenced by but the undeniable mototik beat underlying “The Bullet Train” as well as the urgent rhythmic violin motif insured that this train was only moving ahead. But the congas and the acoustic guitars were the least likely instruments in this one. yet the song managed to keep what were paradoxical energies bound together in flight and sailing smoothly forward.
The tempo shifted radically downward for the jug band psychedelia of “Frontline” with funky acoustic guitars being strummed and slid with fat layers of dreamy sax wafting through the song like afternoon sunlight through trees thick with Spanish moss. The album next dropped an epic ballad with the stunning “A Momentary Fall.” As much as I enjoyed the earlier Blow Monkeys music, the quality of Dr. Robert’s songwriting only got much, much stronger with time under his belt. This is the sort of song that felt like an instant classic. Easily on par with the likes of Fred Neil, Nick Drake and Tim Hardin. And the impassioned singing he brought to the song’s climax was simply stirring; holding his own against the strings and saxes as the song’s coda faded. Leaving only Dr. Robert’s vintage Philicorda electric organ chord sustained to have the last word.
Next: …Not Joking
I confess when I first heard the record, the lead track — while thrillingly sonic and interesting — had me a bit worried that the band might be heading in a more indulgent direction. Needless to say, “I Don’t Mind” put me to rights and I was just so pleased that the album was not just a continuation of the BM legend, but a studied improvement on the way the band worked and what worked best for them.