The Karelia : Divorce At High Noon
A look at Alex Kapranos' unsuccessful past...
Alex Kapranos is an excellent pop star. At least, he is now. Eight years ago, Alex Kapranos was calling himself Alex Huntley – his mother’s maiden name – and was in The Karelia (the national instrument of Finland!). We know this from the badly reproduced picture on the cover, where a pouting Alex sports an unpleasant quiff.
The Karelia’s sound – and I’m quoting from the press release here, was “a cross between a 1920s flapper and a jazzy 1940s chansonnier,” which should induce at the very least a shudder. What this translates as is art-school band writes numbers that their friends enjoy spotting all the clever reference points in while pretending to play the bouzouki, an instrument that Alex actually does play. He also intones everything like he’s a between-the-wars BBC news announcer. When he’s not also singing in French, a tootling trumpet pops up like a unwelcome, dry fart at every opportunity, guitars are strictly weedy twang-a-longs and painfully self-conscious songs like ‘Crazy Irritation’ (“Everyone loves a loony!”) and ‘Nostalgia’ (“Let’s redefine the past!”) race you towards the finish but never race you there fast enough. ‘Life In A Barratt Garret’ seems incapable of getting over its rather clever title while ‘Garavurghty Butes’ (trans: ‘Gravity Boots’) sounds like an overheard pub conversation between two drunks discussing the moon landings, and one that’s stretched to the very limits of human endurance. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Worse, it’s wacky. Now, there’s millions of things pop music’s good for – provoking the most base, primal urges to bringing about profound enlightenment with just the turn of a phrase – but one thing it’s absolutely terrible at is this sort of contrived, tongue-in-cheek, arched-eyebrow japery that’s best left to not terribly good end of the pier comedians, or The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who did a vastly more melodic, sympathetic-yet-lunatic, music-hall version of all this about 35 years ago.
Records from people’s unsuccessful past are always interesting in the what they reveal of someone you thought you knew, but what ‘Divorce At High Noon’ reveals more than anything else is how fortunate Alex was to meet Bob, Nick and Paul, because this was never going to make him the sort of pop star he’s since proved so adept at being.