It may no longer be a man’s world, but crouching in a Native American sweat lodge, pounding a tribal drum and sharing the mysteries of the heart with a pottery teacher from Kent isn’t Stephen Jones’ style. Instead, he makes records like ‘There’s Something Going On’, an album that – at the risk of sounding like the kind of armchair psychologist who thinks Ally McBeal contains Freud-like wisdom – deals with what it means to be a man in the late-20th century.
This is a soundtrack for that fragile male psyche the likes of Fay Weldon are always fretting over, Iron John in meltdown, the hunter-gatherer afraid of the dark. For a musician whose album titles – ‘Bad Shave’, ‘Fatherhood’, ‘I Was Born A Man’ – show a preoccupation with virility bordering on rugby-playing parody, it’s not surprising he should want to pick so lovingly at his masculine faults. “You’re so loveable/I’m a fuck” – he admits on ‘First Man On The Sun’, yet no matter how hard he owns up to misdemeanours against his women, he still contrives to play the victim, his voice a soggy Kleenex of self-pity. Jones pretends his flaws appal him, yet displays them as gleefully as a crackpot saint with ketchup stigmata. All you can do is stare.
If he had any lingering concerns that people would still be stuck on ‘You’re Gorgeous’, they’ll soon be set straight by his sixth album. The opening ‘Bad Old Man’ is as nasty as a medical textbook, a scalpel-sharp examination of a heart as rotten as a pear, and the only time Babybird feel the need to look beyond the mirror in search of evil. Short of giving away free infrared night vision goggles with every CD, this record couldn’t make its dishonourable intentions any clearer – this is the voice of the obsessive, the stalker, the sad-eyed lunatic latent in everyone.
Especially, it might be said, the music fan. All those years Jones spent in his bedroom, lovingly crafting his songs, fetishising the four-track, have translated into his attitude towards love. “Now I’m itching for you to scratch me like all the records your needle has worn”, he shrieks on the leering psychosis of ‘The Life’, incapable of separating flesh from vinyl. It’s why this album is so satisfying, a perfect match of style (the bouquet of poisonous psychedelic blooms and petal-soft balladry) and content (that woman, and how he did her wrong).
The gentle Bunnymen croon of ‘If You’ll Be Mine’ plays the ‘You’re Gorgeous’ trick again, the In Sympathy card disguised as a Valentine, yet by the time ‘You Will Always Love Me’ has inflated its warped Celine Dion ego, it’s obvious this is a case study in self-delusion. He thinks she’s pining for him. She, however, is off with all the members of 5ive, a bottle of absinthe and a rubber Balaclava. Sad but true. The creepy sexual loser persona continues into the sick rhumba of ‘First Man On The Sun’, the cartoonishly rolling tongue and unzipped fly a parody of lust that’s half Jim Morrison, half Jim Carrey, turning evil for the closing title track, a previously unchained melody handcuffed in the cellar and serenaded in a – tellingly feminine – Smokey Robinson falsetto.
Self-pity, self-loathing and staggering narcissism – no matter how you look in a skirt, it’s a universally thrilling combination. Buy this record for the one you adore. You know you’ll love it.