I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
These bloody comedians, coming over here and taking good honest hard working musician’s jobs! Stewart Lee is the latest in a long run of Comedians who take a look at the music industry and think, ‘that doesn’t look that hard.’ As well as a prime spot curating next years All Tomorrow’s Parties, previously sitting in for Stuart Maconie on the Freak Zone, and writing music reviews for The Sunday Times, Stewart has started popping up on records in his own right! Earlier this year he appeared on a tribute album to folk musician Shirley Collins alongside the likes of Graham Coxon, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Lee Ranaldo. Back in 2012 he appeared on the B-side to an Evans The Death 7″ and now he’s sucking up to Simon Love because he’s got a new album out!
Of course, Stewart isn’t the first of these so called “funny men” who think they can make it in the music industry. Allan Stewart Konigsberg, was a big enough fan of Jazz to take his comic stage name from the clarinettist Woody Harmen, and become Woody Allen. He’s also been performing in Jazz bands since the 1960’s, and has taken up a Monday-night residence at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel for many years. Matt Berry might be best known for his booming voice and hilariously versatile facial expressions, but he’s also been garnering plenty of attention for his surprisingly earnest folk recordings. To that list you can add the likes of Steve Martin (an undeniably competent Banjo-picker), Rick Moranis (considerably more questionable country songs) and Hugh Laurie (competent if a little dull delta-blues).
To be fair to them, they’ve all brought a lot of passion for music with them, in fact it’s generally been a lack of original ideas as opposed to a lack of musical competence that’s held them back. Ultimately, if the average front-person’s stage banter is anything to go by, they’re probably a slightly less scary prospect than musicians trying their hand at stand-up comedy.
Simon Love is a singer-songwriter and the former lead singer in The Loves. The album features a number of guest appearances including comedian Stewart Lee and 1960’s pirate radio DJ Emperor Rosko. Indiepop ensemble, A Little Orchestra contribute lush strings and Rob Jones of The Voluntary Butler Scheme provides brass.
Whilst Simon claims the album has taken its inspiration from “maverick Seventies singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson and The Lovin’ Spoonful”, we don’t remember either of them being so delightful sweary! Foul-mouthed lyrics about subjects from Elton John’s wedding night to the voluntary removal of his penis overlay backings that are hugely varied. Wowie Zowie is a slab of 1970’s psychedelia, Sweetheart You Should Probably Go To Sleep an orchestral weeper, and You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouse a Rolling Stones like glam-stomper.
He may now be based in London, but at heart Simon Love’s music is more closely linked to Cardiff. The Welsh capital was voted the sixth best alternative tourist destination by National Geographic, and was a finalist in the vote to be the European Capital Of Culture in 2008, only to be beaten to the prize by Liverpool. Cardiff has always been a major musical hub and in 2010 was named as the UK’s second most musical city by PRS. Cardiff has produced bands such as Los Campesinos, Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers, as well as Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church; contributing to the myth that all Welsh people can sing. They can not!
As a member of The Loves, Simon released four albums between 2004 and 2010, before the band were retired in February 2011. Despite the fact the internet now describes the reaction to their debut album as, “generally hostile” and notes the album was, “commercially unsuccessful” it has not stopped Simon from getting back into music, and last week he released his debut solo album, It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time on Fortuna Pop.
It Seemed Like A. Good Idea At The Time is that rarest of beasts an album that actually success at being both funny and listenable. **** (Is A Dirty Word) is an anti-love anthem that borrows a bass line from Summer Nights and slowly builds to the lyrical apex, “love is a two-Bob, crack whored, arse bumming, cock sucking, mother fucking, dirty word” before exploding into a sort of rock epiphany, a ludicrously bombastic guitar solo, whirling Hammond organ and expressive drums.
The Meaning Of Love is as daft and funny as Stewart Lee reading the Wikipedia definition of Love over a prog-funk backing should be. His decision to have a legendary pirate DJ read the credits out at the end of closing track It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, is amusing once, then slightly infuriating after. The song itself a rather wonderful self-deprecating moment of questioning what exactly he’s doing with his life, “this shadow of a man that barely stands before you, is one that’s filled with fear about what his life has come to.”
On an album of tracks with far more hit than miss, there are two shining beacons, polar opposites that are the unquestionable stand outs. Recent single, The New Adam & Eve, might well see Simon added to many a Police Database with lyrics like, “I’m going to kill somebody today and make it look like suicide” and threats to, “push your-ex down the stairs, and at the bottom of the stairs there’ll be a lot of knives.” But tucked away is an oddly romantic sentiment, a track more about being in love than anything else; “coz with you I’m alright, it’s just everybody else who can fuck off and die, leaving just you and I, and then everybody else can go fuck off and die.” It’s a musical triumph too, all swirling strings and pulsing brass, and we haven’t even mentioned the delightfully Daliesque surrealism conjured by the image of punching a man in the face with fists made of Jelly Fish, and its less cultured conclusion of denying him any of your urine as an antidote.
The other highlight is the surprisingly subtle Elton John. Written from the point of view of his ex-wife Renate on their wedding day, “when I first met you I thought you were the one Superman and Santa Claus but double the fun” she recalls before the slightly libellous chorus waltzes in “Oh Elton John look what you’ve done, you broke my heart now we’re apart, you’re fucking men and I’m fucking alone again.” At one point it threatens to fade away before Simon comes over all whispering and Jarvis Cocker like before a big crescendo and a gentle fade and it’s gone. It’s an oddly beautiful thing, even if the, “book I read” which inspired it might make some fairly untrue accusations about Elton, it’s good to hear from the often forgotten figure in his life.
Probably one of the first Fortuna Pop records that is badly in need of a Parental Guidance Explicit Content label; the easily offended shouldn’t even open the packaging. Those who are unfond of musical silliness should also look elsewhere for their kicks. However should you like sniggering at childish Radio 4 Comedy Programmes as much as listening to Marc Riley’s show on 6Music, then this is a winning combination of the absurd, hilarious and, most surprisingly of all, the actually rather beautiful.
It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time is out now on Fortuna Pop. Simon Love plays Tamesis Docks in London August 13th.