mike davies - february

I remember Wayne Moseley from early BrumBeat days when he played in outfits such as The Last Association and Ulterior Morive, these days he’s bassist with DINKY, a rather fine indie pop rock Walsall trio also featuring lead guitarist Adam Holyhead and vocalist/guitarist Gavin Medza. Recently released, Love Letters is an impressive album that calls to mind such comparisons as The Wonder Stuff, Dodgy and Oasis. Opening with the gutsy guitar riffery The Romance In Murder, they follow up the infectious Jennifer Against The World with its earworm chorus and from there into piano ballad Magnetic Fields with its cello undercurrent.


They have a good ear for catchy melodies and hooks, whether on the power surges of Tonight, Lights Go Out, Overrated or Oxygen, again featuring cello, which switches tempo to a more moodier style midway, or on the quieter, more balladeering material such as the echoey More Than I Was Before featuring Leah Hart on backing vocals and The Ones I Left Behind while strummed album closer J.O.Y also brings lap steel to the mix. They already have a solid local following, but this really deserves a far wider stage.

The ramped up abrasive guitars and scuzzy riffs of Gotta Let Go kick off Sun’s Up, the latest fromSICKY, the driving steamrollering rhythm of Kick In The Ear keeping the momentum heads down before the trampoline swagger of Fit For Arrival delivers a the musical equivalent of strobe searchlight sweeping across your ears.


These very much set the general dynamic approach, while, drawing on psychedelic Beatles influences Help Me (And Me) offers a sonic swirl that builds to another relentless guitar assault. Other than the gradually building Oasis-like My Obsession, there’s not anything you might point to as a ‘ballad’, although, varying the musical stylings, the title track has a poppier Pulp-y feel while the naggingly catchy Transparent takes off on a jerky, s breathlessly sung staccato jitter that pulls together Jarvis and Jackson some 80s bubbling synth-pop combo while Sic’ness nods to 80s sunshine funk. Another sterling example of the wealth of underrated talent the city has waiting for the world to wake up and pay attention.


Occupying a similar musical space as the likes of both Beans On Toast and the early Jam, Ian Passey can always be relied on to deliver some amusingly scabrous observations on contemporary life in his guise as THE HUMDRUM EXPRESS from which, featuring as a perfect example recent romping single E-Petition, comes new album Ultracrepidarian Soup (Cynical Thrills), the first to feature the full five-piece band, the title referring to someone who’s presumptuous and offers advice or opinions beyond one's sphere of knowledge. No surprise then that such folk are in his sights here, kicking off with the chugging, piano and Blurt-like sax flavoured Motivational Wall Art and the Stranglers touch of the organ sweeping Online Beer Club. Blue Plaque Building is a mostly spoken piece offering such enticing proposition as a TV show on which “all four member of New Order try to last longest without mentioning band finances” , the loser enduring an evening with Tony Hadley and the Kemp brothers while, adopting the same approach, Pop Culture Musings includes some passing thoughts such as the annoying habit of established bands releasing a self-titled album that isn’t their debut and whether he should have chosen martial arts over Marshall amps as well as calling time on reviews that use the word sardonic. Elsewhere the shimmering Coffin Cam takes social media apps to extremes and titles like Fading Stars on Social Media, Message Board Hooligan and the surging Chased By The Grammar Police speak for themselves. Sardonic brilliance. Oh, damn.


Having re-entered the world of making music after 40 years, LUKE SKYSCRAPER JAMES has been making up for lost time. At the end of the year, he set himself the task of recording a new album in the run up to his 68th birthday on Jan 10, the appropriately titled 11-track Ridiculous Lengths. A one man effort, sounding distinctively him and those early Fashion days, albeit slightly warmer, it begins with Crazy World and is packed with sinuous at times funky rhythms and prowling riffs, at times conjuring Bowie’s early art rock (listen to Loving You), at others, such as the swaying Feel Like I Felt (which features the lines “Got a phone call from my future self/Static on the line/I ought to check for messages/But I don’t have the time”), enveloped in synthesiser swirls at others staccato and jerky like Got To Give You All My Loving or wrapped in noirish shades as on the doomy rain and neon walkaways atmosphere of Fun House or the languorous Nobody with its moody Spanish guitar colours.

There’s a haunted dark desert Americana feel too, a hint of Lee Hazelwood perhaps, on River Of This Night and, a particular standout, The Ghost of Luke James, title of which was the name under which he released his previous album, which rolls along a little like A Horse With No Name on amphetamine. The albums available on a pay what you like basis on his bandcamp site (www.lukeskyscraperjames.bandcamp.com/album/ridiculous-lengths), monies going towards funding his next album.

Continuing the current patterns of a new album every two years, MAGNUM follow-up the stunning Top 20 success of Lost On The Road To Eternity with The Serpent Rings (SPV Steamhammer), their 21st and first to feature Dennis Ward on bass, following Al Barrow’s departure in 2019, and also their first to make Germany’s Top 5 (it peaked at 36 here but debuted at 10 in the Scottish album chart).


With only three of the eleven tracks under (and two only just) the five-minute mark, it opens echoing the previous album’s orchestral touches with the glorious pomp and surge of Where Are You Eden? its lyrics about going under and calling for help echoed in the powerful Man (which comes with a closing section that would do Queen proud) and its theme about man’s greed and environmental disaster (“Nothing will grow/Rivers stop running” further echoed in the soaring typically anthemic Magnum balladry of the shortest track, The Last One On Earth (“You know I felt like the last one on earth/The sun don't shine anymore”) while impending disaster also underpins the muscular power chords of You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets (“Earth shakes and the boom's getting louder/No birds in the sky, disappeared”).

Proving Tony Clarkin’s ability to write huge melodies hasn’t diminished over time, Madman Or Messiah tackles self-proclaimed saviours giving way to the equally chest-swelling, piano driven The Archway Of Tears and the opening ringing Townshendsy guitars and thumping drumbeat of Not Forgiven with the driving power of advancing tide of warriors.

The slow building epic title track itself nods to the band’s trademark fantasy aspects, rain and thunder setting the scene for lyrics talking of flaming horses and dragon clouds, the album reaching further heights with the keyboards bedrock of The Great Unknown as Bob Catley’s vocals again take to the mountain top. It ends with Rick Benton’s keys one more providing a firm foundation for the widescreen sweep of the ominous imagery of Crimson On The White Sand as it ends with a tumultuous flourish and the sound of a gong. Stupendous stuff


Released as their debut single for Lazy in 1986 and subsequently re-recorded with a smoother sound in 1987, the original version of Thru The Flowers by THE PRIMITIVES has been given new lease of life via Optic Nerve as part of an EP that also features Across My Shoulder which appeared on the 12” along with the rough and raw She Don’t Need You and, Paul Court on vocals, Lazy.

roots-and-branches.com 2020