Preston and co offer up uneven soundtrack to the summer of ska
‘Brassbound’, the press release patronisingly informs us, is an adjective meaning “entrenched and unchangeable” – a reference to the devotion of the hotchpotch mix of chavs, indie kids and bovver boys that comprise the rank and file of The Ordinary Boys’ Ordinary Army. It also means, quite literally, something covered in brass. Which is rather suitable, seeing as the record is, well, covered in brass. French horns and trumpets pop up on ‘Brassbound’ when you least want or expect them and, as was the case with previous album ‘Over The Counter Culture’, ruin a significant portion of it. If the summer of ska is indeed upon us, the blame rests solely with The Ordinary Boys for reinvigorating a genre best left for dead.
And it certainly doesn’t get any more ska than the metallic skip of first single ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. Chest-beating Ordinary Army triumphalism and all, it is one of the few tracks on ‘Brassbound’ to match the standard of ‘Over The Counter Culture’’s terrace-chant singles. Even Rankin’ Junior of Birmingham original ska muppets The Beat fails to sabotage the song with his foul Shaggy impersonation and tales on how he wishes he “had a magic wand/To make people unite as one”.
As we hurtle into the buoyant jangle of ‘Thanks To The Girl’, it’s clear that Fred Perry poster-boy Sam Preston has given up his aspirations of being the new Morrissey, instead plonking for something altogether more reasonable: the new Elvis Costello (the vocal resemblance is, at times, uncanny). But things take a turn for the worse on the mawkish pop-by-numbers ‘On An Island’, itself a veiled attempt by the French-speaking Preston to get us to vote ‘Yes!’ if ever there were an EU referendum. Closing with some tropical organ and a smattering of calypso beats, it’s proof that the gulf between tasty experimentalism and what is known as “dicking around in the studio” is one that needs to be traversed with care. This dip in songwriting lasts the entire middle of the album, though ‘Skull & Bones’ does provide a much-needed attack on the culture of gullibility to arise in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, with Preston chiding, “You’ve got a lot of money and you’re so well-schooled/ So why d’you wanna waste it on this cock and bull?” It also sports possibly the only chorus in the history of music to involve the Freemasons.
‘Brassbound’ gets back on track with ‘Rudi’s In Love’, but as was the case on ‘Over The Counter Culture’, this highlight is a cover. Whereas previously it was The Specials’ ‘Little Bitch’, this time they’ve opted for something slightly more obscure with a Locomotive single from 1968. How this starry, soppy doo-wop pop will go down with the more conservative elements of the Ordinary Army remains to be seen. The final track, the ballad-y ‘Red Letter Day’, opens with strings akin to Björk’s ‘Joga’ and features Preston’s most accomplished vocal yet, along with Marr-like guitar work from co-songwriter Will Brown. Had the entirety of ‘Brassbound’ been as polished as these final two tracks, the Boys would be closer to the promise they exhibited on their debut. Instead, they’ve produced – and have the frightening candour to admit to – their “second debut”.
Though Preston and co continually profess to be making music that stands outside the sphere of what’s considered cool and contemporary, it shouldn’t restrict them from making an amazing record. But until that day comes it will forever be – as Preston sings on one track here – a case of, “One step forward/Two steps back”.