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Spygenius: Canterbury Tales John Robinson reviews the new Spygenius LP, Jobbernowl

Spygenius: Canterbury Tales

John Robinson reviews the new Spygenius LP, Jobbernowl

by John Robinson,
first published: June, 2022
"Well he would say that, wouldn't he" - Mandy Rice Davies Applies

coverSpygenius
Jobbernowl
(Big Stir Records)
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I went to Uni in Canterbury: a city which was infested with tourists and the religious: an enclosed city centre campus with a Prisoner-esque vibe to it, and yet a city with a progressive and adventurous musical history and even a 'scene' named after it. A scene defined by journalists and made up from numerous deities of jazz / progressive / rock fusion strongly or tentatively connected to the city, in much the same way my local college lists Sheridan Smith as an alumni because she had a night class there once. Spygenius are a Canterbury/London based band formed by Peter Watts (formerly of Murrumbidgee Whalers back in the 80s). Their sound reflects that scene, along with classic 60s and 70s rock and psychedelia, and their sixth album is out this week on Big Stir. A jobbernowl is an idiot, a fool, a brexiteer, whether that refers to our political elite or the band themselves is for you to decide. The four-piece produce literate songs, heavy on word play and symbolism and humour, eschatology and scatology in equal measure.

For example, single Son of the Morning, Go Man Go! seems to be about a pet trying to comprehend what its humans are doing, celebrating the bond therein, but also includes lines such as "Lost in a labyrinth of pan, Asking Italo and Umberto, Finding that Flann’s your only man, in plain song", a stack of references only a particular audience will get. It's also a lovely, sunny track, jangling 60s style melody belying a form of sadness at a lost companion: "He looked into my being, sojourning unto death." There is loss in other songs, the human cost of the last two years counted out in 2020 Revision and Of Narcissus. The former celebrates friends who passed with lines such as "Sway with the irises in guiltless lily livery and bliss", the sort of wordplay and pastoral imagery we once got from The Decemberists. The latter song is both a melancholy hymnal to the lost and a guide to recovery, about carrying their memory.

The opening track is danceable, groovy and balanced with an Attractions-esque organ riff, a warning about revolution never bringing you what you intended: I Dig Your New Robes, Pierre!, Sky-Pie Century 21 is a pub-rocking stomp making fun of any kind of certainty, kicking any dogma pie "right back in the sky". The divisions of modern life and uncertainty that comes with age are approached in All that is Solid Melts in Air, a slower, althougth hardly simple, number in which the album title is dropped, along with numerous other G and J-words, including several which are obsolete or approaching that state. Little in life can make you feel older than the very language you use slipping into obscurity.

Not that going back in time is a great idea, as in The Marvellous Mendacious Time Machine, which mocks the absurd fantasy land which some middle-englanders seem to believe once existed and into which they seem determined to cast us: "The dissembly instructions are frightfully clear, We will turn back the Times through the power of fear, We’ll have fun in the Sun when the Mail gets here", the track another 60s tribute, the Kinks Village Green being an obvious influence. The lies of the tabloids are one thing, lies from our appointed representatives are attacked by Mandy Rice-Davies Applies, a gorgeously swinging London track, in which Mandy's words "Well he would say that, wouldn't he" are applicable to every nonsense we hear from certain politicians. Screwy, written by bassist Ruth Rogers is a rousing Kirsty MacColl style romp, going through the decades of a great relationship, deciding that "life's more fun with some explosives". Metamorphosis is about the changing times, once more, and how we can change or fight not to fit in, and the album ends with a daft song about ludicrous conspiracy theorists, Foucault Swings Like a Pendulum Do, in the style of the Bonzos.

Since I love absurdist wordplay, references which may take forever to fully appreciate, songs which come across like a round on QI and music which has progressive tendencies, I'm fully on board here. For all of the above, and gentle but clear political mockery, Jobbernowl may well be your only man (but certainly not plain).


Essential Info
More info at Big Stir Records on Bandcamp

John Robinson

Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax
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