LIFE WITH YOU
W14 MUSIC 3.9.07
If I say “The Proclaimers” you just can’t help hearing “and I would walk five hundred miles” in your head, can you? Or maybe Letter From America? Craig and Charlie Reid have become synonymous with a strident brogue over marching songs. So distinct are their voices that fellow Scot, Fifer Jackie Leven, suggested their clear diction and rolling ‘Rs’ should be adopted by lift companies – “Fourth Floor”….
This is the first album I’ve heard from them and it was a surprise. Songs were as strongly political and opinionated as early Billy Bragg albums. Here are attitudes as punk as Crass, dressed in pop-folk clothes (but without the archaic bollocks that is often carried as baggage in that tradition). This is pop as in popular as in anyone might get a handle on the tunes enough to sing them, with lyrics anyone can understand. The twist is they come straight from the heart of the Reids and hold few punches. Rather than the uplifting emotions I expected, I got hatred for privilege and it’s misuse alongside exhortations to hate hatred. It’s good to be surprised.
The album opens with the single, the warm, loving, bouncy and sweet, heart-on-sleeve Life With You. It’s a Motown meets folk-pop and a strong song. Then it all gets darker….. Vanity and patronage get the knife as the lads have a go at stars taking knighthoods for selling records. Sounds sweet in tone, lyrically viscious. New Religion slags off following anything as a cult, whether it is football or religion. “Some hippy with a gripe / strikes a blow with his census form / by summoning Star Wars tripe”. The next is another vicious attack on objects of their contempt, set to a tune that you might expect to hear behind a sad love song. Maybe these are the songs of The Proclaimers falling out of love with the rest of humanity, or at least their compatriots.
Here It Comes Again is an attack on songs “suffocating joy, draining all ideals…. another hymn to violence…..calling her a bitch….. then he’ll use a big word just to make it rhyme….. saying he’s a man, but what kind of man puts down women?” Blood Lying On Snow has an angry title but is a song of lust for a pale Celtic lass, dressed in red. Nice to have a break from the cynicism and they throw in a short rough-edged guitar solo to add to the rock credentials. We move onto a mix of songs – inspiration to struggle for the good, a direct assault on bombing other countries as a solution to anything and a reminder that it seems to have always been so and a lament. Then a surprise – Wreckless Eric’s timeless Whole Wide World. I do have a soft spot for Eric, I admit, since I once got to open for him in a run down pub in Bradford. That just proves all critics are frustrated performers, doesn’t it…. The song has the heavy stomp and open heart to match The Proclaimers’ singles. To wrap it up the lads ponder “If there’s a god why is he letting violence and murder be done in his name?”
So, a surprise. The boys are a bit of a gem and something to treasure and nurture. Some copies of the album have part of a Hogmanay concert from 2003 that indicate the live gigs would be worth looking out for – and by no coincidence whatsoever, they are on tour right now. Details on their website.