Monday, October 17, 2005

It Was The Colonel, In The Kitchen, With The Lead Piping

Colonel Bastard - Halcyon Days

At last - a proper album from these very fine quirky popsters from Cornwall via Cambridge. Wisely, it gathers together most of the band's live favourites into a brilliantly concise, immediately appealing collection. In Martin White and Ben Garnett, the band possess two gifted songwriters with neatly contrasting styles. White's songs brim with energy and exhuberance, whilst Garnett's, sometimes more refective and subdued, require a few listens before they work their magic. Both have a mastery of infectious melody and the combination results in an album that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Were anyone to offer Colonel Bastard a sizeable advance, it's conceivable that they could be lumped in with the current Britpop revival alongside the Kaiser Chiefs and their ilk. They certainly have an unmistakeably British sensibility informing their work (an American band would surely never rhyme 'lager' with 'aga'). They are better than our current chancers though, and the influences are more subtle. Whilst there are hints of Blur and Supergrass here, the band seem to possess something of the alchemical talents of the likes of The Boo Radleys and Teenage Fanclub (relatively underrated bands at the margins of the original Britpop explosion) for infusing 60s-tinged, summery pop with a quirkier, spikier edge.

It's clear that a number of these songs have been kicking around for a while, at least judging from the band's choice of cultural references. Internet porn no longer seems like a particularly cutting edge subject for a song, but somehow 'Surf The Sexx.Net' manages to sound like a fresh discovery. Peter Sissons is hardly the BBC Newsreader of choice these days, yet his name provides the title for Martin White's hilarious tale of crime and misfortune. Ben Garnett's 'The Day I Met The Bloke From Hollyoaks' might be a little behind the times too - isn't it all The OC and One Tree Hill these days? A US teen soap would seem inappropriate though - far too glamorous and glossy for this band's closer-to-home concerns. The songs are smart and engaging enough to transcend their references. 'Peter Sissons' benefits from a spiky, angular guitar riff that wouldn't sound out of place on a Franz Ferdinand single, whilst '...Hollyoaks' seduces with its truly irresistible chorus.

The lyrics are witty and incisive throughout. There's no Dylanesque verbosity here, but there are plenty of pithy, humorous couplets. My personal favourite is the fantastic opening line to 'Bubblegum Bears' - 'Well she's a honey and I'm Winnie The Pooh/I wanna get my paws on her 'fore the other bears do'.

They're not afraid of a good guitar solo either, but the musicianship is instinctive and thrilling rather than studied or virtuosic. The production is suitably under-polished, with well-arranged harmonies, but a gritty drum and guitar sound that captures the spirit of the band's live performances. Perhaps even last year, I might have described this as endearingly unfashionable, but with guitar pop rapidly squeezing out the pure pop market, I can't think of a better time for Colonel Bastard to make a bid for success.

See Colonel Bastard and Unit live tonight - LSE Student Union, Quad Bar, Houghton Street, London. Doors 7.30pm.

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