When reviewing a debut album by a new band who are starting to make a name for themselves, you often invariably find that the majority fall into one of three camps. There are bands who follow the prevailing winds of fashion, constructing songs that might work on an I-Pod Commercial. Next are those that study a sound or influence so intensively that they resemble a tribute band. Then there are those rare creatures that produce an album so full of ideas and energy that a record is barely enough to contain the vitality within. They create a world of their own. Lovecraft are such a band.
Not to be confused with the 60s Psychedelic band from Chicago, Lovecraft are based in Liverpool in the United Kingdom, a city not short of musical heritage. Indeed, the band themselves are signed to Liverpool indie label, Probe Plus, home of legendary post punks Half Man Half Biscuit. They played, supporting HMHB recently in London and also have been confirmed to support Wire later in the year on home turf, at Liverpool's 02 Academy. Their new album, Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad is a startling collection of warped Prog Pop that is not for the faint hearted.
The opening two tracks One for the Furnace and Royal Jelly are good indications of how this album is going to go. The former is an immediate and infectious tune that works beautifully as the cheeky 'slap to the face' introduction that it is intended to be. Frontman Craig Sinclair's vocals come somewhere between the fine theatrical traditions of Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, and Scott Walker. Duelling guitars flit around with immediacy as if to say "Let's get this show on the road!". The latter is a stomping anthem with military drums and the lyrics offer the kind of rhetorical questions that we ask ourselves when we really look around at the world. When a trumpet enters later in the song, it reminds you of how Belle and Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel would herald the end.
The great moments of this record are scattered throughout and are dark and sinister songs. Mudman's Brunchday is pure horror pop at its finest. An intro that sounds like a Satanic Meditation chant, before descending into the full ceremony. It's almost as if the band have turned into Iron Maiden at this point, the drums sound like impending doom, the guitar line is menacing and has a keyboard noise that sounds like it came from Casio's 'Lucifer' range. That range never existed, but it sounds like it had. Cannibalistic lyrics that make you squirm such as "Eat a Penis, Full of blood..." add to the theatrics.
The Beast is sex music for the slightly awkward. Funky bass and guitar give it a 70s porn soundtrack edge and maybe this is a nod to the band's love of Prince. The vocals are boastful and sexually threatening and it has the kind of chorus that wouldn't seem out of place in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Vinegar Tom is another highlight. It is a Vaudevillian nightmare of a song that waltzes into life like a 19th century English Seaside attraction. Sinclair plays the role of magician and showman looking for volunteers for his next trick and someone to "follow me into a dream". A female volunteer is forthcoming and is "willing and able and game". It can't help but remind me of the dark charm of The Dresden Dolls at their finest. Suddenly mid song, the track transforms into a thrash metal beast with tortured screams before effortlessly reverting back again to the waltz.
It isn't just blood, guts and misery throughout though. In fact, it is amongst the band's most tender moments that another of their secret weapons emerge - the female backing singers. Baby Jeans is a whimsical strum along about the kind of love that makes you want to mend the jeans of the object of your affections time and time again. Sinclair's delivery is earnest and the girls add gorgeous harmonies that make for welcome and comforting release amongst the gore. Uprooting is a similar declaration of overwhelming love and of looking after someone whatever the circumstances. The backing is sublime and almost angelic, and creates a beautiful birdsong effect.
Perhaps the weakest moments of this album are a result of the magnitude of some of its successes. The sheer inventiveness can't last forever and a band like Lovecraft with so many influences crammed in, do fall victim on a couple of occasions to their ambitions. Jimmy Riddle revolves around a repetitive synth line and, although it shows some great lyrical touches, is spoiled slightly from never fully allowing the guitars to shine through. The Telepathist is valiant nod to both The Flaming Lips and Roxy Music, but sticks a little too closely to the blueprints. In other less capable hands, both tracks would be stand out affairs. It just goes to show the talent and creativity on display.
Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad is as challenging as it is commercial, as sweet as it is sinister, as frightening as it is hilarious. It hints at a promising future for a band that have surfaced from the murky depths of Liverpool's alternative underground. Anyone who has been to the place will know how murky that can be! I await new material with anticipation, but won't be eating a penis in a hurry.