What is it with artists from the seventies/eighties returning after a long hiatus with excellent material to unleash on an unsuspecting public? The last few years have been littered with many such bands and solo singers- The Distractions, John Howard, Bill Fay, The Pop Group, The Slits to name a few- who have new releases that match if not better the critically acclaimed music of their first incarnation. To that list you can add The Brainiac 5.
There’s quite a pedigree to the band with singer/guitarist/songwriter Charlie Taylor being a founder member of the band which released an EP and single in the mid 70’s of music that was a heady mix of the outgoing prog rock and the incoming punk movement. The band split before the debut album ‘World Inside’ was released, with Taylor eventually settling in the US for a number of years. Guitarist Duncan Kerr, who also contributes to song writing, was a member of Nottingham based pub rockers Plummet Airlines who released a single on Stiff Records called ‘Silver Shirt’ (more recently covered by Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby) and an album before splitting. He was a member of Darts for a while and more recently has added some excellent guitar work to last years ‘Flower of London’ by Proudfoot. Drumming on that album was Joe Malone, who now fills the drum stool for The Brainiac 5. Original bassist John ‘Woody’ Wood returns to complete the rhythm section and add kalimba, harmonica and jews harp to the mix.
The original sound has now been expanded, taking in a variety of influences that have shaped the music and added fresh impetus and ideas to the mix. Lyrically things have developed and moved on with several songs featuring or being inspired by a diverse range of poets.
The laid back opening ‘Endless River Part 1’ gently eases us into proceedings with harmonies and strummed acoustic lulling us into a false sense of calm before the 12 minute ‘The Human Scapegoat’ is unleashed. At this point I have to admit I have no idea what happened to ‘Endless River Part 2’, presumably you can only have one endless river as there’d be no water left for another one…
‘The Human Scapegoat’ is an ambitious piece both musically and lyrically and doesn’t out stay a single second of its welcome despite its length. The opening guitar sound is one of those dense, threatening riffs that spiral menacingly in a very Neil Young and Crazy Horse kind of way. The rest of the song takes many twists and turns during its course, one passage featuring a doom laden riff underpinning some frenetic Fripp-like fretwork. There’s also a kind of interlude of percussive instrumentation, a choral backing, a return to the opening guitar sound and an outro that is so far away from what has preceded for you to think it’s been beamed in from another song by mistake. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics yet- apparently they include translations of ancient Mespotamian poems and relate to tribes choosing their King to rule for a year before being sacrificed to ensure a successful harvest. Add in the misguided progress of the human race through mechanisation which eventually leads to self-destruction and we have a song that would make a good HBO mini-series to match Game of Thrones. Thankfully, there is a happy ending, with the survivors returning to a simpler, more natural way of life- perhaps a positive notion to take away with us in the dark days of Trump.
Inevitably, ‘Laura Riding’ is almost a pause for breath, though is still fascinating in its depiction of the writings and thoughts of the author of the song title, taking in as it does the idea that mind control can stop wars. This is all backed by the kind of slightly off mind expanded boogie that Welsh band Man excelled at. There’s an exasperation at the world in general in ‘At Noon’ with the belief that there’s no purpose in life as it stands, while the following ‘The World Inside’ features guest vocalist Jessie Pie playing the soulful jazz diva to a lounge jazz backing punctuated with some punchy guitar work and backing vocals which remind this listener of some of Vic Godard’s efforts in a similar style, which is of course a good thing.
There’s a further change in pace and style with the glam stomp and swagger of ‘Some Things’ which extolls the virtues of good communication and features some excellent harmonica from Woody. Just as you think you’ve reached the climax and outro it appears to think better of things and tag another outro on the end before fading.
The sleeve notes to the final track ‘Kill It’ ask the question kill what? Inappropriate obsessions apparently, to which you can read what you will. It’s another 10 minute plus track with not a note wasted. Similar to ‘The Human Scapegoat’ in that it goes off several directions, sometimes at the same time, and features more excellent guitar work- the spirit of Wishbone Ash, Television and the aforementioned Man are all apparent in the long instrumental passages, though with more attack and bite. It’s a grand and breathless way to finish an album full of virtuosity and intrigue. Don’t leave it another 30 odd years eh lads?