Album Review by Mark Bayross
This third Bear album comes a year or so after their experimental half-hour EP THE SHORTEST DAY and sees them return to their pop roots on solid form. Fronted by singer-guitarist Chris Trout, this Sheffield three-piece is backed on many of the album’s 11 tracks by a string section and a healthy dose of synthesiser.
Opening with the angular, jarring Wedding Present-style guitars of WHAT THE BUTCHER SAW, Bear’s agenda is set from the word go: “This is an industry full of talentless hacks / Most of us whining around with knives in our backs”. But this occupies a territory far from the self-indulgent miserablism of most of today’s Radiohead clones or the deadpan persecution complexes of Morrissey and his ilk. Trout’s lyrics are witty and insightful, and the music is uplifting and varied.
Compare and contrast the pretty acoustic ballad SUNRISE FROM LHOTSE, an ode to climbing the Himalayas with “our tins and fags in supermarket plastic bags”, with the tightly-wound punk of NUMBER ONE HEADCASE, with its sci-fi effects echoing around the guitars. Also of note is the heavenly juxtaposition of 70 YEARS, a lament on the inevitability of wasting our short lives with drink and drugs, which builds into beautiful crescendos of string and woodwind, with DOWN THE UPHILL, the minimalist lo-fi electronic instrumental that follows it.
21ST CENTURY BOB-A-JOB MAN is possibly the most musically striking track here, all Sparks-like staccato high drama, as our hero spirals more into fantasy with each verse, starting with “I could be a checker in an automated factory / Remorselessly repetitive like techno kids from Germany” and finishing with “I’d have Fergie round to dinner / Cos I like a porky ginner / I’d skin her with a broken mug / She’d make my Mum a lovely rug”.
Alongside an obvious hatred of the music business (“…someone really super like the weasels in the music biz”), this song also highlights the other central theme of the album: the future. Whether it’s the unsatisfactory nature of our current situation (“If I had a trainer on a fifty grand retainer / And a Roller and a chauffeur / Would my life be so much better? / Yeah”) or as in CARDBOARD CITIZEN 2000, a general pessimism about reaching the year 2000 and everything still being as mundane and tough as it always has been: “No spaceship dream for me / No Federation blouses / That’s not how life is going to be”.
Closing with the nine minute, string-and-choir-laden HORSE TO WATER, Chris Trout sums up what has been weighing heavy on him throughout the whole album: “This body’s pushing thirty-five / I don’t know what I’m doing here / I should be working in an office / For sixty grand a year”. He is deluding himself, and he knows it: “How could I fail to be a singer / With such a dreadful voice?”
I hope he does give up the day job – this album’s an unexpected gem.