Knowingly, from the start, I was going to enjoy this album, thanks to their websites teaser tracks: Pet Cemetery and The Frighteners. However, I wasn’t certain the extent to which I would love this album because of its morbidity on first play. Moreover, The Frighteners has become personally the most addictive wit of an album since Stornoway’s Beachcombers Windowsill.
With album opener Pet Cemetery enticing you into the album’s narrative that bleakly negotiates death, via the narrator’s childhood recollection of him and his brother finding and petting a rat until its death. Stylistically it’s Jeffrey Lewis’ Heavy Heart that you can trace subtle resonances here. Despite its slow acoustic guitar and lonesome vocals, the lyrics are, when you read between the lines it’s really not as dark, as it seems. The narrator establishes that pondering over when you’re dead and buried, ultimately shouldn’t be a going concern for the living: “If you think too much about how you are going to die, it’s probably more of a hindrance”. Having said that, on the albums last track: Too Many Songbirds when Innes sings ‘My life is taking up all my time” it seems somewhat ironic.
Vocally Innes has the ability to use everyday diction with such candid conviction that carries a greater weighting of meaning than that of elaborate or intricate description. Much like Seamus Heaney the depiction is concrete and much like Heaney’s collection, ‘Mid-term Break’, Innes too ensues that there a nostalgic trip to be had, his semantic field of pets, dolls houses, and scenes are reminiscent of stories of horror and folklore and Biblical connotations help evoke childhood memories. The innocence of Pet Cemetery’s “morbid fascination on that day got me thinking of my body in a box” impinges on the “b” euphony, the stressed annunciation almost feels like the child stuttering comprehension of death for the first time, “but, but…”.
Sweetheart I introduces a female vocalist, dueting with Joe that borders on the twee yet back-to-back with the bickering banter of Sweetheart II, proving no means comparable to the finishing off of each other’s sentences as per Fink and Marling. Alternatively to Noah and the Whale, there is more traceability with Belle and Sebastian with The Pogues and The Levellers in the mix. Innes manages expletives in light-hearted un-offensive means like an Irishman and it’s the anti-folk eccentricity that saturates the album, such as: “In the garden of Eden, Adam had Eve, but they had no conversation and no HDTV” that make for the most entertaining and charming. Life-Sized Doll House proves the most upbeat, from the first drum beat and violin melody that proves invitation enough for a jig. Thematically the album underpins a human vs. animal and Life vs. death dichotomy that makes Big Black Smoke seem an almost epiphany, the “broken little thoughts” and it is revealed that: “I’ve been waiting for this life to wake, I got so wise I started getting tooth ache”. The track is the most evocative due to the brevity of language that is applied in an impressionist brush stroke.
The title track The Frighteners gradual guitar plucking and echoed vocals set the scene of a derelict alleyway. The pace is quickened and once the drums commence and the almost Lucifer Flute in the backdrop begins, its soon realised that you’re fully fledged into a horror scene: “I never knew the vampires, until their teeth were in my veins and I never knew the zombies until they were chewing on my brains”. At times the song is reminiscent at times of Tom Williams And The Boat’s Teenage Blood. ‘The Frighteners’ permeates horror classics such as Night Of The Living Dead, you can just imagine Johnny being snatched and zombie bitten. The sound effects of the creaking coffin really help add to the imagery of a graveyard, all they were short of was screams of Barbara in the backdrop….
Before long, trust me, you will find yourself to have “fallen rather quickly into affection” for Joe Innes and The Cavalcade.