Saturday, April 16, 2016

Close Lobsters “Desire & Signs EP” (Shelflife)


London stories have been told through song since the banks of the Thames were first settled. We must confess up front to a soft spot for Wendy James’ “London’s Brilliant”, the solo ‘breakthrough hit’ written for her by Cait O’Riordan and Elvis Costello that was roundly panned, and then flopped, because we think it’s a stirring, if tongue in cheek, girl-in-the-city romp through modern London’s cultural history – “digging up the bones of Strummer & Jones”, as Wendy sang - that got the London love/hate dynamic down just right. Mind you, we might never have heard it had we not spotted the cassette single version on sale for 10p in a bargain bin.

In the twenty years this fanzine has now been based in our capital city, we’ve loved an array of hymns to it: we’re thinking not so much of the usual suspects (the Kinks or the Jam or Squeeze), but the sadnesses-through-song of Trembling Blue Stars’ “A London Story”; or how Annemari and Bobby, missing the moon, said goodbye in central London; or the generation’s worth of moving dramas and London life-panoramas of the magnificent Comet Gain; or the pockets and suburbs of west and north London respectively celebrated in song by prime storytellers the Hit Parade and Chas & Dave; or out-of-towners Cinerama’s surprisingly effective torch song version of fellow outsiders the Smiths’ “London”; or perhaps the ultimate outsider, Mark E. Smith, declaiming “a hand on your shoulder in Leicester Square… Exit this Roman shell” on “Leave The Capitol”; or the parody-as-original of Alan Parker Urban Warrior and his BAFTA-drenched house band, out-shamming the Sham with smash-the-system classics like “Tube Station Lies”…

Why are we going on about this, exactly? Well, partly because we’ll bang on about London history and/or the deepest recesses of our record collection any time any place, given half a chance. However, the immediate prompt is that the reformed, renewed Close Lobsters, authors of 2014’s very finest single even amidst some seriously stiff competition, are finally BACK with its successor; and the first song on it, “Under London Skies” has wasted no time in joining the canon of in love with these times, in spite of these times first-city favourites.

More importantly than that, the song is an absolute belter, a rollicking ride of finely honed guitar-pop which amply demonstrates that “Now Time” was no fluke and that Close Lobsters are another combo, like fellow Glaswegians the Orchids or London’s own Wolfhounds, now producing 21st century work every bit as impressive as the releases we still treasure that made them first time around. I don’t mind admitting that a tear was brought to one eye on first listen (a little embarrassing when you’re on the 43 to work) as the song, driving ever on, decided that its blissful guitars and theme of memories from halcyon times hadn’t churned my emotions quite enough, and turned for good measure into a touchingly raw potted history of the band.

Like Morrissey, Smith or Gedge, all contemporaries really (indeed, Gedge had earlier, with the Wedding Present, put a version of "Let's Make Some Plans" onto the flip of a UK Top 20 single), Close Lobsters are also out-of-towners. Indeed, they’re visitors hailing from a different, if adjacent country, a group we'd always associated - through a jumble of snatched memories from their songs, interviews, record sleeves - with Paisley, Larkhall, St. Mirin...

We’d guess that they might have first encountered London at any length on early tours, playing to the press pack in the 1980s, but it’s still a little of a surprise - after the striking & independence-fuelled clarion call of “Now Time” – that memories of this English city, oft-painted in the British media as a collective enemy, or the home to a remote elite, can inspire not only a paean to London in a Scottish accent (the closing bars make it crystal clear that the song's authors have London's longstanding radical tradition in mind), but also frankly a song this simply bloody AMAZING, another vinyl A-side slice of pure Scottish Electric Lightning that’s fit to match past high water marks like “Going To Heaven To See If It Rains”, or “Never Seen Before” or, yes, “Now Time”. Blog and press release writers risk underselling this point because - please let's be candid - Close Lobsters were, and are, a great British band, who just happened to appear on C86.

As we observed last time around, the Lobsters still have a knack of taking lyrics that might sound cheesy in lesser hands (“we get high / in the summertime” really doesn’t sound too promising written down, does it?) yet somehow coming up roses. Later on in the song, they get more specific: “this is the London of the Clash” sings Andrew Burnett (yup, we're digging up those bones again) and, unless our ears deceive us, there’s even a shout-out to Alternative TV, which would be great if we’re right because ATV are one of the most perennially underrated bands ever to emerge from London or its environs.

On the other side of the record, the almost Go-Betweensy “Wander Epic Part II” offers further proof that Close Lobsters are no longer content with writing mere pop songs, but seem to have decided that they’re only going to write anthems: when they’re this strong, that’s fine by us. The guitars continue to encircle and chime, but “Wander Epic” is lyrically somewhere else entirely, charting a recluse’s pilgrimage to “purify the malady of the soul” as he follows brooks, streams and rivers to the wide open sea.

And that’s your lot – because “Desire & Signs”, like “Kunstwerk in Spacetime”, is one of those two-track EPs – but really, what an artefact, twelve minutes of knocking-off-your-socks genius on 7”. There is no danger whatsoever of this one ending up in a bargain bin for ten new pence or any other amount, so we urge you to get your order in before the single lands (or whatever it is that singles do now) at the start of June.

Next month, as fortune would have it, we’re heading off to see Close Lobsters for the very first time. Under London skies, of course. It’s going to be an absolute privilege.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hope you enjoyed the show. I saw the Lobsters perform back in 1989 or 1990 during the Headache Rhetoric tour. This was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Great show, I still remember it over 25 years later.

stricken office worker said...

Thanks - yes, it was an excellent show, and in a classic venue. In particular, the guitar sound was incredible, so crisp and clear.

All four songs from the alarmingly good recent 7"s were played (I think!), though I am bound to say that it was a joyous trip through "Let's Make Some Plans" that took the roof off for me.

Cheers!