Friday, 28 December 2012

Album review: THE NORTH SEA SCROLLS - The North Sea Scrolls

Highlights: Broadmoor Blues Delta, Mr. Cynthia, I Am Falconetti, Tim Hardin MP, Enoch Powell Space Poet

Saving the best for last. That’s right, a bizarre, obscure concept album about British culture that nobody has heard about (and even fewer listened). But that’s a fucking travesty, if you ask me: two classic songwriters (and part-time rock outsiders, Cathal Coughlan and Luke Haines) each wrote six songs about – ah, don’t ask. Allusions run deep here, too deep perhaps, but don’t let that distract you from the quality of the actual songs. Because the songs are brilliant.

There’s also a third collaborator, rock critic Andrew Mueller (he writes for Uncut – which slammed this album in a hilariously incompetent way). In concert, Andrew reads these 13 mysterious scrolls in a solemn, deadpan manner, adding to the amusingly disturbing effect of this delightful outburst of quirky British eccentricity. One, however, that is well worthy of anyone’s time.

Luke Haines’ songs are uniformly great, of course, but that is all you could expect from the man who gave us The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. The glam-informed opener, “Broadmoor Blues Delta”, is classic Haines, sneering, tuneful and witty, but then so is the infectious “I’m Not The Man You Think I Am, Karen…”, so is the masterful exercise in English folk, “The Morris Man Cometh” (that is some middle eight, Luke), so is the lyrically revamped, gorgeous “Enoch Powell: Space Poet” (originally on his 50-copies-only Outsider Music project).

As for Cathal Coughlan, the album finds him in his ‘playful crooner’ mood, his contributions being really evocative of Scott Walker’s more accessible years. It’s also not unlike his best solo album to date, Sky’s Awful Blue, only where that album seemed morbid and desolate (in a good way), this one has a great deal of aural warmth to it. “Mr. Cynthia” (guess who this one is about) is probably the strongest, but it’s, again, remarkably consistent. I even enjoyed the surprisingly upbeat “Witches In The Water”, which is reminiscent of Microdisney (Cathal’s pop band I’ve never really rated).

If there’s one half-assed complaint, it’s this: despite the similar instrumentation (basically, this is a guitar/keyboards/violin thing),there’s not much sonic cohesion here. Cathal and Luke have quite different songwriting styles. Having said that, it shouldn’t be a problem: a good song is a good song. And that is all this album has, really. My album of the year.


Do try to catch this thing in concert. I saw them do The Scrolls in St. Pancras Old Church, and it was a genuinely odd, fascinating, totally unforgettable experience.

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