What is an album? For some, it’s a chance to wring out the profit from a few hits and comes glued together with lesser tracks and throwaway fillers. For others, it is a concept, a wandering menagerie upon a theme that pegs those hits – or attempted hits – with similar types, investigating some great addled vision thought up on a hotel bed.
For the select few though, it is art – as visual and vibrant as a painting, as ever-changing and alive as theatre, as expansive and as enigmatic as film.
The Eccentronic Research Council are cut from the cloth of those few. Aided and abetted by the unmistakable tones of Northern treasure Maxine Peake, the pair have created Magpie Billy and The Egg That Yolked, an album which aims high and achieves much, despite (or possibly because of) its flaws.
The album tells the story – and here comes a wailing spoiler alert – of the titular anti-hero and his wife, their demise and possible haunting of an unsuspecting couple “from the city”.
It is, as the duo freely admit, hewn from the rock that created Tales Of The Unexpected, Hammer House of Horror and Beasts and heavily influenced by Shelagh Delaney, Joe Meek and Alfred Hitchcock. And it is the most unique record you are likely to come across all year.
Mostly, the reason for that is that it is less music and more a mix of spoken word, performance art and radio play.
In it, fizzing and often archaic sounds swell and ebb, evoking feelings of Telstar, 70s TV and fairground waltzer rides, while Ms Peake serves up monologues and meanderings about Billy and his unusual fate – and the fate of those who come after him.
It seethes and sighs, rages and rolls, cartwheels and careens in the most exuberant of manners, punching and pinching and playing with every preconception you may have about what is often loosely termed ‘experimental music’.
And it is far from perfect, as failings and flaws spatter proceedings. As solidly retro as the music is, it begins to grate with a discordant repetitiveness, while lyrically, it is occasionally lazy and clichéd, with talk of noise like ‘a furious chef in a Greek restaurant’ and a ‘steel toe capped Riverdance rooftop palaver’, both of which pale into the background beside the excruciatingly bad description of a boy being ‘willyspanked’ by a ‘spandex-clad’ girl called Deidre.
But it tries in a way that most albums you have heard would never dreamed of doing. It aims for the heavens and strives to be new. As a result, it delivers an unusual splendour and a splendidly idiosyncratic shot in the arm for anyone wearying of what the album, that most increasingly anachronistic of musical forms, has left to offer.
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