Johnny Cooke turns suburban rage into throat-searing riches on another quintessentially British debut
Britain, Britain, Britain. When Tom Baker says it on the telly, it’s supposed to be a triple-toll of celebration. But as we look around us, doesn’t it start sounding like a weary sigh of admonishment? Aren’t we starting to get a little bit fucked, punch-drunk, reeling and wretched? Aren’t our streets becoming a Dickensian nightmare of hoodied-up happy-slappy hoodlums filming us with stolen phones, beaming pre-teen mums displaying their latest progeny for horrified tabloids and terror wherever we turn? It’s hell out there. But what can you do? Write songs about it?
Well, hey, if it keeps them off the streets. Because as Britain curdles and cracks, so our bands start whipping up choice street-level agit-pop anthems. The Kaisers’ ‘I Predict A Riot’ is the obvious benchmark. Roll Deep’s audacious ‘The Avenue’, Maximo Park’s ‘Graffiti’, the Hard-Fi album, The Rakes, Roots Manuva’s ‘The Falling’, MIA’’s ‘Bucky Done Gun’… all vivid, brilliant documentaries of a land going to the dogs.
Talking of which, here comes the debut from Johnny Cooke’s bridgers of the north/south divide, simmered in dead-end jobs and a seething sense of injustice, steaming about the minutiae of relationships and the world at large until something blows. And ‘Turn Against The Land’ does blow (in a good way). While Hard-Fi’s brilliant album tacitly celebrates and finds comfort in everything that it moves to condemn, there’s little celebration here. Life sucks, love is transitory, there’s nothing left – which is probably why it’s not called ‘This Land, It’s Swings And Roundabouts, Innit?’.
There are maybe 20 seconds of icy, echo-chamber calm at the start of ‘Turn…’ and then we’re off, never to stop running until the last few breaths. ‘London Bridge’ is vicious pop-as-anger-management, and when Johnny sighs, “Take me home…” at the close, he sounds like he’s forgotten where that might be. He’s better though when he’s not keeping a lid on it – ‘End Of An Era’ is the kind of break-up record no sane human being would ever want written about them (“What a wanker! What a wanker! I’m getting away from here!”); ‘Tarred And Feathered’ is a gigantic anthem of defiance in the face of doom, steamrollering head-on at the iniquities of life. Even when Johnny turns romantic, as on ‘Donkey’ (“Shed your load! Your donkey’s come home!”), he sounds As Mad As Hell And Not Going To Take It Any More™. It takes the tragically abrupt closing title track to add a few strokes of a more reflective, melancholy brush. But then, if it’s reflection you want, browse on some other shelf. If it’s bug-eyed reprobates with angry hearts powering aneurysm-inducing buzzsaw pop, then you’ve just found your summer’s soundtrack.