For an album so deeply concerned with its listeners’ physical and mental well-being, it’s being launched in the worst place imaginable. Camden’s notorious kebab shop-cum-after hours carousing den the Marathon Bar, where many an internal organ has been punished late into the night by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Jack White. In its boho backroom, Hull rant punk upstarts LIFE are staging what might well be the most ironic launch party of all time for their second album ‘A Picture Of Good Health’. Shroom shish with acid wine sauce all round!
“The idea for the kebab shop was we’ll do it in a dirty takeaway, because it’s the total opposite of what we’re trying to say on the record,” says singer Mez Sanders-Green. “The album’s all about good health… In Hull we always say if you go to a kebab shop at the end of the night, we call it a dirty kebab. It’s throwaway and I guess we’re playing on that as an image of how everyone looks after themselves.”
From the sound of the record, Mez and co. have been looking after themselves about as well as a Fat White Family tour of Amsterdam. Where their Lamacq-tipped 2017 debut album ‘Popular Music’ – a Fall-esque DIY post-punk frenzy – tackled Trump, Brexit, US gun laws, as well as the hardships and personal issues facing the vulnerable young people they worked with as Talent Developers at an open access centre called The Warren in Hull.
This time Mez and his co-lyricist (and brother) Mick have “turned the microscope on ourselves”. The album teems with dangerous (low)lives lived on the edge, inspired by the stories that scurried through the Warren as well as the band’s own individual breakdowns and six months in Mez’s life that saw his relationship break up, leaving him an “isolated” single dad. “We’re just trying to be brave about talking about things,” he explains. “In order for good health, let’s talk about them.”
They certainly go in hard. Album opener ‘Good Health’ suggests that, essentially, life is futile: “it feels like your life must mean something but it points to nothing”. Bit harsh? “We deliberately started the album with that because it’s about how just when you think everything’s going smoothly, something else can come along and gut you and change that whole perception of where you think you’re going,” says Mez. “But as the album progresses it’s sort of channelling six months of my life, and then at the end it’s all about hope and resolved and finding love again, and feeling elated, so it takes you on a journey.”
So ‘Half-Pint Fatherhood’ finds Mez dealing with the difficulties of joint custody and ‘Thoughts’ is an open-diary glimpse into a fractured mind, a post-punk grind that begins with Mez giving in to social media’s constant urge to better ourselves – he considers moving to Prague to become a writer and finding spiritual nourishment by building a church “in a Third World country” – but descends into a rabid internal monologue about sex, death and food. But mostly sex.
“You’d be a liar if you weren’t thinking about things like that,” he argues. And via songs about manipulative London record label “pissants” plying new bands with drugs (‘Moral Fibre’: “I love your backstage labels, I love your cocaine tables”), listless singledom (‘Bum Hour’, ‘Never Love Again’) and social media inadequacy (‘Hollow Thing’) the album reaches an optimistic conclusion on ‘Don’t Give Up Yet’ and ‘New Rose In Love’. It’s all delivered in a febrile rush of erudite, socially conscious babble-pop akin to IDLES and Fontaines D.C., suggesting that crank wave might well be ‘a thing’.
“We’re definitely all on the same page, and we’re all very honest artists. We’re friends with Nadine Shah as well, we toured with her. There’s a mutual respect there of artists who are brave enough to talk about what they want to talk about and not shy away from subjects that have often been taboo.”
“The music scene in general is so refreshing now because I always used to say these bands used to survive on the periphery or on the outer circles. Now there is a lot of space for everyone. For artists who are being brave and honest, there seems to be like a welcome space for that… It seems like it’s OK to talk about mental health, it’s OK to talk about how we live. That’s driving that community and it’s resonating with audiences as well, because that’s always been there and now it’s out in the open and everyone’s embracing it, rather than pushing it under the carpet.”
If only there’d been a carpet to brush Mez’s tourbus ‘accident’ underneath on the first day of LIFE’s tour with IDLES though…
“We shared a sleeper bus for two weeks,” Mez says, “it was an amazing experience and we get on with the band so well. It was just fun. We’d play the shows, we’d have a good drink, we’d wake up in the next city and do the same again. We were all just within each other’s pockets living as one rather than as two different bands. It was all about ‘we’re all on the same page’.”
“So it was an amazing time, other than that I did shit myself on the first night in the bunk. The rule is that you’re not allowed to shit on the tour bus, you have to hot-bag it and then drop it off in a service station. But we were crossing the tunnel and it was pitch black and I’d had too much whiskey. So knowing that I couldn’t shit down the toilet, I shat into my boxer shorts, wrapped it up in paper, almost like my son’s nappy and put it at the end of my bunk. And then in the morning the top deck was just like ‘what is that smell?’ There’s a group WhatsApp and their tour manager was like ‘whoever shat themselves on the bus needs to own up’. I was like ‘that’s a good way to start the tour for me!’
Let’s hope Mez didn’t load up on post-Marathon gig kebabs…
LIFE’s new album A Picture of Good Health is out now