Half Man Half Biscuit
Half Man Half Biscuit write sardonic songs often with a surreal nature, a form of social commentary if you like. Having emerged in the mid-80s, they have quite a catalogue of interesting songs and if you haven't heard them, you must check them out. Hailing from Birkenhead, witty songwriter Nigel Blackwell delivers his words in a dry yet sometimes loud punky out of tune type snarl which is quite a contrast from the gentle folk rock that the band play. There's no one quite like Half Man Half Biscuit and I appreciate them for their unique sound, unfortunately they don't do too well in the charts, which is a pity because they are the voice of small town England and the vast majority of the population will have experienced the things that they write about in their songs.
Cammell Laird Social Club
For a band who supposedly packed up two decades ago due to their inability to combine gigging and watching football, Half Man Half Biscuit seem to release an awful lot of albums. These releases are not necessarily particularly well publicised and I have to admit, I sort of forgot about the band and when I decided to have a look at what the band had done recently, I picked an album at random that I didn't recognise. It actually turned out to have been released around 11 years ago, so it wasn't that new.
Not knowing Birkenhead, I can't confirm just how entertaining Cammell Laird Social Club is but I do know that Dixie Dean was born on Laird Road.
The Light At The End of The Tunnel (Is the Light of an Oncoming Train)
A rather lively new wave number about a man from Eyam whose beloved girlfriend left the Peak District for the big city lights of Notting Hill -'where the cocaine is fair-trade and frequently displayed is the Buena Vista Social Club CD.' Impressive exaggerated howling on the chorus and a heavy section where there's a sudden chant of 'No frills, handy for the hills, that's the way you spell New Mills' just adds to the enjoyable variety in what's one of the best tracks on the album.
When the Evening Sun Goes Down
This is a more mellow, less hectic tune but the chorus is incredibly catchy and the acoustic guitar playing has a real campfire sing-a-long sound to it, Blackwell's genius in managing to work in rhyming lyrics about television has to be marvelled at (he is a well known TV addict)
There are questions in corners of my mind that lurk,
(When the evening sun goes down)
Like How do the road gritters get to work?
(When the evening sun goes down)
Answer me that, and you could win a cruise,
(When the evening sun goes down)
And heres Judy Tsuke to take us up to the news.
San Antonio Foam Party
San Antonio Foam Party starts off with a strong punk riff, once again in contrast Blackwell's delivery is really dry, it's almost like he is a bored teenager responding to his mother about a dinner he doesn't want (I guess teenagers don't respond at all these days?)
It's a surreal track and I'm not entirely sure what's going on, I can only imagine that the text echoes events that I'm unaware of such as a storming of a brothel in Palermo, I did have to laugh at the final verse though:
This is me pleading for some civic pride
Using or losing the park and ride
Twin town said we just weren't cool
So now we got a suicide pact with Goole
Them's The Vagaries
By this point, you've either switched off or fallen in love with the album and this track will only strengthen your feeling towards the band even more (I suppose if you've switched it off and it's still playing, you will be annoyed anyway)... it's a mish mash of light pop punk riffs and sludgy bass lines, likewise the singing varies from shouting to quite subtle delivery.
Lyrically they examine some of the subject's weak spots:
I'll not sit backwards on the train
I can't say I'll always flush the chain
And what I call pleasure, you may call pain
If I Had Possession Over Pancake Day
This is the first time of a track with a bit more of a folky nature, it does finish with a punk edge before ending it abruptly with the lyrics:
Give a philosophy student a glass of limeade
and he will say: "is this a glass of limeade?"
and "if so, why is it a glass of limeade?"
and, after a while, he'll die of thirst
Which to be fair, doesn't seem to fit in a lot with the rest of the song but it's entertaining all the same.
The Referee's Alphabet
Undoubtedly one of the best songs on the album, a gentle strum of a song complete with tweeting birds in the background, it sounds like an idyllic Saturday afternoon. Blackwell then reads through the alphabet in the way fellow reviewer thedevilinme might do, only he takes a look at the cynical world of football. There's too many fantastic lines to mention and I urge every football fan to go to Youtube and listen to it, if you've not heard it, a random selection is:
The G is for the gnarled face of someone whos on 90,000 a week
And reckoned he should have had a throw in
She's in Broadstairs
A totally crazy song about a man keen to be reunited with his ex, after a guitar heavy intro, it all goes a bit electric, kind of like early Pulp only with more synthesizers. In this case, the delivery is anarchic, there's fast delivery of short little rhymes. It tells the story rather well and I'm amazed he can weave such a tale out of lines made up of just three or four words, but he pulls it off and the chorus is great to boot!
The folkiest of tracks on the album but there is too much emphasis on a very simple keyboard beat, we even get a taste of some unimpressive yodelling. It's a bit of a trudger and whilst the lyrics are still entertaining they are not as fun as a lot of the other tracks. My least favourite song of the album.
The third track in a row that makes use of keyboards, which is quite uncommon in the world of Half Man Half Biscuit, it's difficult to describe it as a song as such - Blackwell relays a tongue-in-cheek version of the news, it's an entertaining piece but lacks the rhythm of some of the other tracks.
27 Yards of Dental Floss
An upbeat cheerful song with snappy sarcastic lyrics that typifies the band's work, the chorus of 'Twenty seven yards of dental floss and she still won't give me smile' is incredibly catchy. Another cracking line has to be:
Fired by wine she was almost mine 'til a fight broke out in the bar
Third rate Les in his Burberry fez had gone just a little too far
Paradise Lost (You're the Reason Why)
A song that has the ring of a national anthem to it, there's just something twangy about the guitar playing and the chorus is like an uplifting battle tune, it's quite inspirational and yet it's actually a song full of mild hatred, having once seen the number plate - 'Big Boy' in Iceland, I have a soft spot for the verse that goes:
Well we've both seen your personalised reg plates
And it's not the worst crime I agree
But we both know full well that it really should spell
Thy Damnation Slumbereth Not
Ah heavy, almost grungy sound to this with some nice little bass lines, the core riff of the track becomes more and more catchy when it should in fact become tiring, The delivery is pretty sneery and the Wirral accent could grate on some people's nerves as it's quite sharp on this particular track because the track is an attack on the celeb world. As per usual, it's full of witty lyrics.
Stavanger Toe Stub
Basically at this point the album is over but the tracklist lists 'Stavanger Toe Stub' complete with umlauts over the o, to give it that heavy metal feel, basically it's just a list of swear words that come out as a result of a toe stub.
Half Man Half Biscuit also cover a great variety of topics in their songs, a lot of people pass them off as a novelty act and whilst I can see their point, they are damn good songs both lyrically and musically. Gone are the cheeky tales of their beloved Tranmere Rovers, once great football teams like Dukla Prague (which ironically seem to be back in business once again) but the band still have a couple of songs with more than a mention of their favourite sport.
It takes a very strange person to play a Half Man Half Biscuit album with the frequency that a lot of people might play The Beatles or an Abba album but it's definitely not the kind of thing you only play once either. I tend to use their songs in English lessons, people look at me in a strange way. Due to the band's strange subject matter, it's not necessary easily to pit album against album but I think this is worth buying if you like the band.
Another cracking album from Half Man Half Biscuit. Although, a couple of the tracks don't quite match up to the rest of the album, She's In Broadstairs is a bit lame and The Referees Alphabet, though funny, doesn't really stand up to multiple listens but otherwise this is a winner!
The boys have got a brilliant sound on this album (for THEM that is, by any other bands standards it'd be rubbish) and the first five songs are all excellent. Them's The Vagaries probably being my favourite if not for the dirty riff then for the line "Bin men, thin men, lexicographers. Squid yes, not so octopuss" Now THERE is a lesson in lyric writing!!!
Breaking News has me in stitches every time. It's all about "Operation 'less pricks'", which involves cleaning up the streets and removing unwanted people from society for "annoying the nation". I love the Lisa Riley's inclusion.
Thy Damnation, Slumbereth Not is one of those epic lumbering Half Man tunes that remind you what great songwriters they are.
The humourous, cynical observations really are at there best on this cd. And with lines like "I'm off to see the Bootleg Beatles as the bootleg Mark Chapman" who wouldn't want this in their collection?!?!?
1 - The Light at the End of the Tunnel (is the Light of an Oncoming Train)
2 - When the Evening Sun Goes Down
3 - San Antonio Foam Party
4 - Them's the Vagaries
5 - If I had Possession Over Pancake Day
6 - The Referee's Alphabet
7 - She's in Broadstairs
8 - Tyrolean Knockabout
9 - Breaking News
10 - 27 Yards of Dental Floss
11 - Paradise Lost (You're the Reason Why)
12 - Thy Damnation Slumbereth Not
13 - Stavanger Töestub
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Light At The End Of The Tunnel...
2 When The Evening Sun Goes Down
3 San Antonio Foam Party
4 Them's The Vagaries
5 If I Had Possession Over Pancake Day
6 Referee's Alphabet
7 She's In Broadstairs
8 Tyrolean Knockabout
9 Breaking News
10 27 Yards Of Dental Floss
11 Paradise Lost (You're The Reason Why)
12 Damnation Slumbereth Not
13 Stavanger Toestu