This is the one we’ve been waiting for!
It’s one thing producing an attention-grabbing debut single, but the acid test comes with the first album: is the band’s style and delivery sufficient to retain the listener’s interest for around forty minutes, or does the ‘novelty’ of their initial uniqueness wear thin?
Well – I’m happy (and relieved, because I so wanted it to be this way) to say quite unequivocally that MUMMY SHORT ARMS have got it just right! And the winning formula even starts with the album’s title – it bears no relevance to any of the tracks that I can detect, and somehow just sits right with the perceived image of the band. Strangely, it reminds me of Lightyear’s second album from about eight years ago, called ‘Chris Gentleman’s Hairdresser and Railway Bookshop.’ It likewise didn’t directly relate to any of the songs on the album, and the band themselves successfully carved themselves a unique image and reputation amongst the UK music scene of that time.
But where MUMMY SHORT ARMS score over the likes of Lightyear (not that you could compare them musically anyway) is that I feel their appeal will stretch the Atlantic. The American market would lap this stuff up as it touches on a slight Americana / Blues edge and is sufficiently ‘different’ so as not to be associated with any particular ‘scene.’
Inevitably any discussions about the Glasgow band are going to centre on the vocal style of front man James Allan. I think in previous postings I’ve likened his voice to that of Tom Waits on speed. It really is most distinct – although that in itself could perhaps also bring its own problems with regard to versatility. It could be considered a constraint towards variation.
‘Could’ – but doesn’t. No, because MUMMY SHORT ARMS are not simply about the voice. This is no ‘one trick pony.’ The band presents the listener with several different styles throughout this album. Opening track ‘Silicone Dream,’ (which will be released as a single on May 14th, one week before the album itself) features little dashes of catchy keyboards over the top of a buzzing guitar riff and steady beats of the rhythm section.
This is followed by the brilliantly atmospheric ‘Cigarette Smuggling’ with James’s voice rasping like he’s been on forty a day of the damned things for most of his young life. ‘Doon The Water’ has its intense and rather manic moments, but is probably one of the more conventional songs on the album, with the acoustic guitar / piano combination particularly impressive. ‘Where’s The Mortuary’ for some reason (it’s the backing guitar style, I think) has some Spanish undertones while ‘Rusty Jose’ takes on more the form of a stripped back hardcore punk song, complete with genre-required expletives! (Check it out – you’ll see what I mean. Maybe.)
‘Whisky Avalanche’ slows things down a little. (I should mention that although MUMMY SHORT ARMS adopt a bluesy tone to much of their music, there are no tracks here that you would tag as ‘slow numbers.’) This one though has a more gentle sway rather than a swagger. ‘The Ballad Of Tom Mix,’ opens with what sounds like your local church organist has been watching too many Bela Lugosi movies, but quickly builds tempo and ends up being one of those album tracks that you perhaps dismiss initially as ‘filler’ but gradually appreciate more and more until it becomes your favourite! It’s not as ‘instant’ as the others is what I’m saying.
‘Change’ was the band’s last single release. It’s like a quick paced blues number, as would perhaps have been sung by the likes of Captain Beefheart in his more sort of lucid periods. Then ‘Coyote Surprise’ comes along. The recording of this track is interesting in that it conveys a very informal image of the band just jamming acoustically in a bedroom or the like. As a listener, you really feel that you sitting next to the lads. Excellent.
‘Searching For A Body’ has a lovely upbeat feel to it, again with the piano and guitar combining so well. I could just imagine this being performed in a smoke-filled dingy bar somewhere downtown.
(The final two tracks are a ‘reprise’ of ‘Whisky Avalanche’ and a re-mix (Baron Mercredi) of ‘Silicone Dream.’)
Yeah: MUMMY SHORT ARMS – different and brilliant!
(Released through Flowers In The Dustbin Records on 21st May 2012)
(10 / 10)