The State Of Things
Proud Mary. Jonathan Wilkes. Menswear. Natasha Bedingfield. Electric Six. The all-too-common practice of labels desperately signing up the flatmates, girlfriends, dealers and chiropodists of the current indie band du jour in the interests of ‘scene building’ has given us some shocking musical abortions over the years. It’s human nature of course – the sharply-risen rock star is keen to drag his friends and family up out of the Gillingham Arsefly with them while the labels are happy to make a fast buck by association before dropping them like a shit-smothered Thee Unstrung. But the result is often an embarrassing skidmark on the gusset of a hard-earned reputation: one suspects, for example, that the Yorke household would prefer to lift its enormous stack of Radiohead platinum discs and brush underneath all memory of The Unbelievable Truth (ask your gullible ’Head-obsessed uncle). And heaven knows there is now no more terrifying a phrase in the history of press releases than ‘mates of Jack White’.
Enter one Jon ‘The Reverend’ McClure. A political activist A punk rock preacherman. A poet (it says here). But forget
all that, more importantly he’s friend and mentor to the Arctic Monkeys, which is why we’re talking about him right now. It was he who took young Alex Turner and Matt Helders under his wing in his Sheffield free-form funk collective Judan Suki. It was his band 1984 that the object of desire in ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ danced to electro-pop like a robot from.
It was he who encapsulated the essence of all things New Yorkshire, writing a poem called ‘See The Truth’ that was taken on as a code of conduct for the entire scene, a line of it even making its way into the Monkeys’ ‘A Certain Romance’ (“There’s the truth that they can’t see/They’d probably like to throw a punch at me”). And it was he who, once the A&Rs started sniffing around Sheffield for Monkeys clones to exploit, broke up his band and went into songwriting exile in Amsterdam for 18 months. The Reverend knew the score: he saw the gargantuan shadow he was stepping out in, felt the restraining shoulder weight of his associations. He knew he’d have to produce something pretty spectacular in order not to be the Mate Of The Monkeys who gets a Top 10 hit by sounding a bit like an electro ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and then never gets heard of again.
Two years later he’s had a Top 10 hit, ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The World’, by sounding a bit like an electro ‘When The Sun Goes Down’. The Monkeys, y’see, run deep in his marrow; whether he forged them in his own image or simply nobbled their gravy-laced Sheffield street bard schtick wholesale, the bond between them is too strong to be bled out.
It’s all there in ‘The State Of Things’ – The Rev’s carefully planned opening statement. It sounds like Alex Turner’s dad making a record heavily inspired by Jesus Jones. Vocally, the Reverend sings like Alex at 33rpm. Musically, it lurches from the sublime tunes that reflect synthfully on the Monkeys’ arch streetwise truths (the sultry fuzz ballad ‘Sex With The Ex’) to the pleasant techno-pop bits where producer Jagz Kooner plays to his Primal Screamish strengths (‘What The Milkman Saw’; the Turner-featuring ‘The Machine’) to the songs that want to be by Ian Brown so much they practically detune themselves (‘Armchair Detective’; ‘Sundown On The Empire’) to the cringingly abysmal tracks that deserve to be humanely destroyed with a hammer (‘He Said He Loved Me’). And lyrically… well, if this man is a ‘poet’ then Beth Ditto is an Olympic level 400m hurdler.
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“I am the Reverend/I’ll tell you about the state of things” Rev declares in the title track. Really? Well, away you go then. “What of the woman who stands by her fella/Despite the bruises brought on by the Stella?” Yeah, crikey. “The football fans fight ’cos United’s at home/As futile as bald men fighting for a comb”. Hmmm, no shit. The godawful
‘Bandits’ disco-funks painfully away about the dangers of fruit machine addiction (pissed off wives, some other bloke getting the jackpot when you pop to the bog). ‘He Said He Loved Me’ puts to cod-Franz ‘music’ the classic sobbed ‘But-ay-lahv-eeeem’ conversation overheard in girls toilets at 11.15pm the breadth of the nation’s Wetherspoons every Friday night. ‘18-30’ tries to nudgingly satirise the boozy package holiday mentality while forgetting that 18-30 holidays are solely for idiots and he’s saying nothing whatsoever to the self-respecting indie backpacker about their life.
STI-addled single mums called Keely, horny milkmen, Brits abroad, terrace violence: crass, clichéd and condescending, you can’t tell whether the Reverend thinks he’s plying open the truth at the heart of the working class condition from the inside or just sneering at the chavvy thickos he’s seen on Street Crime UK. Whatever – and the comparison is sadly unavoidable – next to Turner’s wry and incisive lyrical wordplay this is the equivalent of a saucy postcard sent home from Malaga with just a crudely drawn picture of some tits on the back.The Reverend, then: basically just a clanking, clunking disco Monkey. File under ‘Wolfman’.