When Andy Partridge of XTC decided to launch his Ape House record label, there was really only one band in the running. They were a group from Ireland, yet named themselves after a fictional pirate hero of English children’s stories, Pugwash. While the trio have flown under the radar for the past ten years in the United States, Pugwash have become a pretty big deal in both the Irish and English music presses.
They have released three albums since their inception: Almond Tea (1999), Almanac (2003), and Jollity (2005). Their fourth, Eleven Modern Antiquities is due out in 2010. Giddy is a 13 song compilation of Pugwash's work over the past decade, including two songs from Antiquities.
Andy Partridge hedged his bets pretty well, because if Giddy gets any airplay, Pugwash could find a big audience in the United States.
The disc opens up with “Apples,” a glorious symphonic pop tune on par with classic later period XTC. From there we move on to the defiantly naïve track, “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” The only way I can describe this song is Rubber Soul era Beatles, met with classic Beach Boys harmonies.
The Beach Boys effect is no surprise, as one of the many guests to appear with Pugwash is Nelson Bragg of The Brian Wilson Band. Other notables who pay tribute include Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory of XTC, Michael Penn, and Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze, among a host of others.
Thomas Walsh is the leader of Pugwash, writing and singing all of their songs. He claims to have grown up on a steady diet of Beatles, Kinks, and ELO.
The influences are certainly apparent on Giddy. “The Season Of Flowers And Leaves,” seems to channel “She’s Leaving Home,” while “Cluster Bomb” features Jeff Lynne-style strings a-plenty.
The Ray Davies connection is a little more subtle. Walsh's tribute to his hero gets to the heart of the matter, and is great fun as well. "My Genius" states Walsh's claim right from the beginning, “You fell, for my genius, but my genius, is out of a bottle.” Sounds sad, but this is an ode to inebriation, as only an Irishman can put it. “Where would we be…with sobriety?” is a celebration of getting loaded, Ray Davies style.
Schoolboys in disgrace, always.
The song is done to a swinging bossa-nova beat that Mad Men’s Donald Draper probably would have dug. It then careens wildly into classic English music-hall territory. “My Genius” is as overt a Kinks tribute as you will ever find.
Although they are never mentioned in any of the press materials, and Walsh would probably deny it, the effect of Oasis is overt. Both “Finer Things In Life,” and “Two Wrongs” would have slotted in perfectly on (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
“Two Wrongs” segues in a beautiful way into the final track here, “Anchor.” For me, “Anchor” is the most XTC sounding track on Giddy. Coincidentally, it is my favorite song as well. Walsh’s innate lyricism allows him to impart a wonderful sentiment that a lesser talent would have ruined.
To me, the lyrics of “Anchor” evoke those of something like “Surf’s Up,” or a lost XTC song from English Settlement, “Jason And The Argonauts.” It is really, really good. I hope that with the launching of Ape House, and the Andy Partridge connection, more people will hear this band.
On my end, I am looking forward to the release of Eleven Modern Antiquities. Pugwash seem to have a lot to offer the music world.