Chris T-T – Capital (Xtra Mile, 2008)
I came to this new album from Chris T-T, his first with a full band since 2003’s ‘London is Sinking’, with real enthusiasm, and the conviction that it would be my favourite of Chris’ albums thus far. The reality of my reaction has proved a little more complicated. This is a fine album – but considerably more unremitting and volatile than its predecessors, and mostly without levity.
Billed as the concluding part of a trilogy about London (following predecessors ‘The 253’ and ‘London is Sinking’), ‘Capital’ is a big, blustery rock and roll record in a very British rock tradition. Compared with previous T-T records, it’s also somewhat dour and relatively humourless. Whilst Chris’ records have been heavily politicised for some time, fuelled by vitriol and rage, his records have also come with a healthy dose of self-deprecating fun (from ‘You Can Be Flirty’ to ‘Preaching to the Converted’, the latter comically undermining the whole purpose of his ‘9 Red Songs’ protest album). ‘Capital’ is sometimes compassionate and deeply moving (‘A Box to Hide In’, ‘Let’s Do Some Damage’), sometimes wry (‘Old Men’, ‘Black Music’), but rarely outwardly funny.
Whereas ‘9 Red Songs’ expressed some hope for the future, ‘Capital’ seems doused in pessimism. The opening ‘(We Are) The King of England’ slyly references his back catalogue by portentously proclaiming ‘if you thought London was sinking last year/Get ready for a whole lot worse’. The sludgy, tuneless and unpleasant ‘Where Were You?’ (comfortably my least favourite T-T track to date) ends with the words ‘everyone is dead/and everyone who’s not dead might as well be dead/they play dead…’ The closing ‘4AM’ claims that ‘the heart is gone, the soul is gone, the only thing left is the money’, a chorus seemingly applicable to both a failing relationship and the state of government in the UK and US in the aftermath of 9/11 (‘they’ve got any excuse now’). The urgency and sense of paralysing fear is spot on, but is more effective when tempered by Chris’ humane concerns and sympathies.
This is perhaps best achieved on ‘A Box To Hide In’, a song already familiar from live performances. With its flourishes of trumpet and harmonica, it reminds me more than a little of underrated indie heroes Animals That Swim, even if the acoustic live performances I’ve heard may actually have more unsparing power than this fuller arrangement. Either way, it’s a remarkably touching and unsentimental take on the July 7th bombings, and one that wisely warns against allowing such events to control us. In fact, Chris’ targets throughout ‘Capital’ seem to be the negative and damaging responses of those in power when faced with difficult situations. This is most neatly encapsulated in the scathing ‘None Of Them Give a Fuck About The Future’, one of the best and most ambitious tracks here, incorporating as it does threadbare funk, deceptively sweet-sounding female backing vocals and grizzly rock.
Some of the best moments on ‘Capital’ are where it ventures more into more personal territory. ‘Old Men’ is a wonderful denunciation of human beings settling into comfortable boredom, whilst accepting the grim inevitability that this is what happens to us all eventually. Even better is the extraordinary ‘Ankles’, a disturbing and powerfully articulate depiction of a dysfunctional relationship characterised by violence (‘I held her down to stop her leaving and coming back to you’).
‘Ankles’ also works well musically, refreshing Chris’ sound through foregrounding the piano. Indeed, keyboards are far more prevalent throughout ‘Capital’, from occasional sensitive piano chords to the pitch bending antics on ‘We Are The King of England’. The music is consistently crisp and vigorous. I’m not so keen on the ugly choppiness of ‘Where Were You?’ or the rather superfluous parody of ‘Black Music’, but ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ and ‘A To Z’ sound fearlessly angry, whilst ‘This Gun Is Not A Gun’ seems to sound more like 80s REM than anything on ‘Accelerate’ – no bad thing.
‘Capital’ presents a merciless deconstruction of commonly held assumptions, and a concentrated assault on limited altruism, insulting triumphalism and negative assertions of power for its own sake. As a result, it’s arguably the least comfortable of Chris’ albums to date. The greater attention to detail in production and arrangement could broaden his audience considerably, but few would dare accuse him of compromising. The most disconcerting thing about ‘Capital’ is that its apocalyptic tone and sense of fiery urgency is so absolutely necessary.