My only encounter with Martin Newell thus far has been a couple of tracks on the radio and Giles Smith’s not entirely gripping autobiography, Lost In Music. As the title suggests, it sits alongside The Village Green Preservation Society; Half England, Half English, and more lately, Down in Albion, in studying the state of the nation (England).
In keeping with the aforementioned albums, the lyrics are biased towards painting a picture of a country lacking social and ethical fibre. Given that this record being reviewed now was recorded in 1993, and that Blur weighed in the following year with Modern Life Is Rubbish, one can only wonder what their creators would make of England in 2011.
Musically speaking, few risks are taken, as the guitars sound bright and jangly, and the keyboards are reminiscent of pub saloon pianos and Wurlitzer organs, which is no bad thing. Occasionally, there are touches of unexpected percussion, which give the album a bit of flavour.
The highlights of this album are very high indeed. My own pick of the bunch is "We’ll Build A House", which laments the travails of those navigating the housing market, and the quite charming "Before The Hurricane". "The Jangling Man" is a cracking guitar-driven tune, and as much a classic early '90s anthem as anything the Britpop crowd managed.
The nostalgia at times is a tad overdone in tracks such as "Home Counties Boy", but in its defence, the title and general theme of the album should prepare the listener for an overdose of rose-tint.
The failings of the album are few, but manifest in the form of "A Street Called Prospect", in which Newell hasn’t done enough to stamp his own mark on the song, and not that of The Kinks. To place a seasonal song on a regular album is always akin to skating on thin ice, and sadly, "Christmas in Suburbia" isn’t weird and wonderful enough to be enjoyed without a bladder full of mulled wine.
On the whole, this is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a witty and articulate songwriter with a very strong grasp of melody.