Album Review: THE BLOCKHEADS – Same Horse Different Jockey

 

Self release [Release Date: 23.11.13]

It’s 36 years since The Blockheads first hit the road to stardom and 13 years since Ian Dury died. And on the evidence of this album, the band appears to be far better positioned to deal with the loss of their leader than most.

‘Same Horse, Different Jockey’ is their third post Dury album and it’s their best. Since we live in age where brand names are more important than band personnel – a result of the last man standing syndrome, rather than any dodgy promoter’s trickery – the song catalogue is ever more important.

And this is where the Blackheads score heavily, for apart from boasting core members Micky Gallagher, Chaz Jankel, John Turnbull, and Norman Watt Roy and sax player Gilad Atzmon, they have a significant back catalogue and a worthy replacement for Ian Dury in Derek ‘The Draw’ Hussey. He’s a wordsmith who pens his own stories and humorous poetic rhymes, and delivers them with a droll sense of humour and ironic phrasing that will surely appeal to the band’s core fans.

Perhaps his role explains the ‘Same Horse, Different Jockey’ album title. It’s also an album funded by the fans through a pledge system and one worthy of the band’s enduring canon.

‘Same Horse, Different Jockey’ also comes with the startling art work of Sarah Lucas – a naked man with a strategically placed bottle of milk, 2 ginger biscuits and a cue ball to spare his blushes – which in typical Blockheads fashion projects their warts and all humour.

It’s an album that embraces Dury’s enduring legacy while celebrating the Blockheads brilliant musicality and Derek poetic rhymes. The band insistently percolates beneath Derek’s’ precise imagery and occasionally bubbles up into the front of mix, on a series of deep grooves and a brace of surprising trad jazz interludes.

If there one criticism, it’s simply that some of the subtle and intricate band interplay is mixed too far back, but given the narrative led nature of the material I guess it’s a case of the arrangements and production supporting Del’s word plays rather than dominating them.

Mick Gallagher electric piano and a funky guitar line leads the band into ‘Look The Other Way’, on a typical groove that backs up Del’s tale of urban paranoia. ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ find Del on a close to the mic vocal, with some Dury style poetry enunciated over a sweeping organ part and grainy toned sax, as part of a bubbling groove: ‘The devil makes work for idle hands, nothing to do so lets get caned, low expectations, the future’s bleak, life means nothing on a losing streak’.

Once you get over shock of realising that the band have found another urban poet to steer the ship, you’ll quickly warm to the new material. The fact that The Blockheads website now features Del’s poetry page suggests they’ve settled on him as a ready made replacement, but with his own humorous twist and ironic turns of phrase.

The clarinet led ‘Undercover’ features a trad jazz intro, which they later extend on ‘Sorry I Apologise’. It’s a humorous look at our surveillance society and makes its point subtly: ‘Orwell was right it’s coming on top, right out of order when will it stop?’ before Del adds: ‘I don’t like living in panavision or being under constant suspicion’.

‘Express Yourself’ finds the band in a soulful vein, all wah-wah guitar and mighty horns, over a crisp, tic-toc percussion and Norman’s uplifting bass line, while ‘Are You One Of Those People’ is a classic late 70’s Blockhead groove anchored by a ‘Rhythm Stick’ style backing track.  A throbbing bass, subtle synth squalls and wailing sax are the perfect foil for Del’s precise diction on a feverish rap. The funky groove is musical highlight and finishes all too soon, as it’s this subtle combination of ironically voiced lyrics with sophisticated grooves that gives The Blockheads their enduring appeal.

In Derek Hussey the band have a priceless gem who occasionally references Dury’s style as on ‘Frightened Man’ (surely destined to become a live favourite), but draws on his own lyrics, as evidenced by the touching ballad ‘Confused’ and the more obvious rock and roll work out of ‘What’s The Deal Mama’.

The album finishes with a poignant ballad ‘Tommy Gunn’. It’s a beautifully crafted song that pushes Del that little bit closer to personifying a band that is impressively adding to Ian Dury’s legacy rather than simply relying on it. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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